Macbeth: Without Words

Macbeth: Without Words is an abstract and aesthetically pleasing piece, rich in tension. In this production Edinburgh-based company Ludens Ensemble stage an interpretation ‘the Scottish play’ through a dynamic mixture of sound, lighting, projection and physical theatre. The play dispenses with Shakespeare’s dialogue and with speech in general, instead focusing on dance-like choreography and multimedia effects. Wordlessness must be convenient in a play which suspicious theatre-types shudder to name.

If you’re after aesthetic beauty and outstanding use of multimedia, then this atmospheric production is a good bet.

Visually, the play is darkly beautiful. As well as the talented three-person cast moving with choreographed grace across the stage, the show makes use of vividly atmospheric lighting, smoke machines, unnerving Commedia dell’Arte style makeup, and the most impressive projection I’ve seen in a Fringe show, to create a powerful and creepy ambience. Abstract shapes, colourful images, blood splatters and beautiful close-up clips of microscopic insects are beamed onto the giant projection screen on the back wall. You’re often not sure what your looking at, but these eerie projections nonetheless manage to be the chilling highlight of the show.

Despite these successes, however, the play’s story becomes confusing and, unless you’re already familiar with the details of Macbeth, it’s very difficult to follow. Tiny excerpts of Shakespeare’s text are periodically projected onto an on-stage screen, which provides some welcome guidance as to what’s going on, but many scenes remain bewildering nonetheless. This is definitely not a production for Shakespearean traditionalists or festival-goers in search of naturalistic drama as, without language, both character and plot seem relegated to very much secondary concerns.

Even in the absence of dialogue, however, there are moments when character relationships do become clear and are stylishly developed through movement. Particularly memorable is the crucial relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the moment when they conceive of their plot to murder King Duncan, depicted by pulling away a clear plastic sheet that covers a red velvet throne. The scene, which feels both sinister and intimate, elegantly portrays their relationship.

The show demonstrates skill in using sound and projection alongside the actors on stage, although this production was held back by its limitations around storyline and narrative coherence. Ultimately, if you’re after your dose of Shakespeare then this probably isn’t the right play for you. But if you’re after aesthetic beauty and outstanding use of multimedia, then this atmospheric production is a good bet. 

Reviews by Nuri Syed Corser

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The Blurb

‘Ludens are ones to watch out for’ **** (Mary Brennan, Herald). ‘A compelling, highly intelligent retelling of the famous story’ **** ( A dramatic canvas of living images drawing upon the silent film era, creating a fearless interpretation of Macbeth’s rapid rise to power and even more precipitous fall. Three actors portray all the characters – transforming Shakespeare's language into potent visual imagery and a darkly brooding sound world. No spoken words. Performed at the Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival (Traverse Theatre). Organised by the Cyprus High Commission Cultural Section. Funded by Pafos 2017, European Capital of Culture.