Q&A: choreographer Kally Lloyd Jones

As Company Chordelia takes Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here on tour, we speak to choreographer Kally Lloyd Jones about why she's fascinated by the Bard's most famous woman

Q&A with choreographer Kally Lloyd Jones

Her previous works have explored the cruel dance marathons of depression-era America (Dance Derby), and the life of dance legend Vaslav Nijinsky (Nijinsky's Last Jump). Now, with new work Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here, critically acclaimed choreographer Kally Lloyd Jones turns her attention to one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, and the woman who is complicit in murder but fades into the background as the play progresses – not so here.

When did your interest in Lady Macbeth start?
We all do Shakespeare at school, and then I did a Masters degree in English Literature and studied Shakespeare then – and I think Lady Macbeth has always been my favourite character.

But what really ignited my desire to make a show about her was when I was the choreographer on Dominic Hill's production of Macbeth for Scottish Opera, and then I was revival director on it. And the opera of Macbeth is interesting, because it distils the play down to scenes that are really about the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth – but even then, Lady Macbeth's role diminishes after the killing of Duncan – she sort of fades away, and we don't even see her death, we just hear about it.

And I think she's fascinating, and made even more fascinating when you think that she would have originally been played by a man, and that whole idea of what is masculine behaviour and what is feminine behaviour – so I wanted to pick her out and colour it in and think about what was going on during all the bits that we don't see.

You've cast three male dancers to play the role of Lady Macbeth – what was behind that decision?
It's one of those things that wasn't really a decision, it just arrived in my head. I always saw her being played by men – and I suppose that's partly because she would have been, so presumably Shakespeare had that in his mind as he was writing.

And then on top of that, so much of the text is about the idea that there is masculine and feminine behaviour - 'unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe topful of direst cruelty' which I think is interesting and something that still survives today. And I think we're more likely to question what we think about that if we see men doing things we think women would traditionally have done.

For instance, in the play it's hinted at that she had a baby, but the Macbeth's don't have any children, so presumably that baby was lost. So the idea of motherhood and what that did to her is interesting if you see men going through that emotional spectrum.

And my instruction to the three dancers was not to try to behave or act in any way feminine, but simply to feel the feelings. And they're all so different, it manifests itself very differently, which I think is really beautiful.

And why three dancers playing Lady Macbeth instead of one?
I suppose it's because I think her journey has three different phases. Sometimes the dancers work together as three aspects of her, sometimes they have solos that come from one of her monologues, and then other times they slightly morph into guards or maids.

How would you describe the three phases of her journey?
When we initially see her, she gets the letter from Macbeth about the prophecy of the witches and talks to the spirits – that's the 'unsex me here' bit where she asks to be made more masculine, so she can be cruel enough to plan the deed of killing Duncan.

Then a bit later on, we see her goading Macbeth into killing Duncan, and in that speech she mentions the loss of the baby, and she's much tougher by then – she talks about knowing what it's like to have dashed the baby's brains out, as a way of goading Macbeth into doing this deed that she's set up for him.

And then of course, much later on, there's the very famous sleepwalking scene – 'Out, damn'd spot' when she's completely unravelled and the guilt has got to her.

You've worked with Deaf theatre company Solar Bear on this production – tell us how you've incorporated sign language into the show.
They started out as two separate ideas – I wanted to make a show about Lady Macbeth, and for a very long time I've loved watching sign language and thought about how interesting it is.

And then I thought this is the perfect show to try that out, because we've got Shakespeare's language as a starting point, and it completely made sense to me. So I talked to Gerry Ramage at Solar Bear and he loved the idea.

So, if you're a hearing audience, you just see movement – which, because the dancers understand the meaning of what they're saying through sign language, is really rooted in the narrative. But it's been incorporated into the movement, so if you didn't know already there was sign language in there, you wouldn't notice.

But if you do know sign language, then you'll see a different show. Each of the solos, which are rooted in Lady Macbeth's monologues, are to some degree demonstrated. The sign language is morphed into what they call 'visual vernacular', so it's not in a pure form, but it's legible.

So are audience members who understand sign language getting Lady Macbeth's monologues word for word?
No, they're not. They're getting fragments of it, a flavour of it and the themes behind it. It isn't literal. In fact I discovered that British Sign Language doesn't work that way, it isn't in fact a literal translation, it works differently as a language.

So in the soundscape, each of those monologues is imbedded in the music as well, so the hearing audience hears fragments of those monologues spoken by actor Georgina Bell.

Three men playing a female character on stage, but her words are spoken by a female actor – you're doing some very interesting things with gender here.
Yes, I hadn't thought about it like that – but it feels right.

Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here

Chordelia and Solar Bear present an examination of Shakespeare's most complex female character.

Aros Centre, Isle of Skye

Tue 15 Nov

Times & prices to be confirmed / 01478 613750

Birnam Arts & Conference Centre

Thu 10 Nov

Times & prices to be confirmed / 01350 727674

The Brunton, Musselburgh

Fri 4 Nov

£12.50 (£10.50; under 18s £8) / 0131 665 2240

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