Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here
Shakespeare's dark lady protagonist receives her own show
In approaching Lady Macbeth, choreographer Kally Lloyd-Jones has taken her famous plea to the dark spirits seriously: Shakespeare's villainous queen is played by three male dancers. Using Verdi's opera, interspersed with extracts from the Scottish Play and basing her choreographic vocabulary around British Sign Language, Lloyd-Jones offers a detailed psychological study of Macbeth's partner in crime.
Working in a tight ensemble, Jacob Casselden, Jack Webb and Thomas Baylis present Lady Macbeth's journey from powerful conspirator to guilt-stricken suicide. Each episode is carefully marked out, with her descent into madness sharing many of the movements of her earlier confidence, drawing a clear line from her murderous intent to her downfall. Lloyd-Jones' poetic adaptation of BSL evokes the precision of martial arts without falling into clumsy literalism: the dancers' physical expressiveness suggest that their bodies are communicating her personality in a way that escapes the spoken word.
The plot's familiarity ensures that the story is obvious, even if its character analysis is sometimes predictable. So, when the 'damn spot' that accurses her after the murder of Duncan is scrubbed with water, her gestures to the dark forces are as melodramatic as Georgina Bell Godolphin's reading of Shakespeare's monologue. Yet there are moments of imagination: the transformation of a baby in swaddling clothes into heavy stones conjures the perversion of her maternal instincts, while her anxiety is performed as a series of repetitious tasks.
This Lady Macbeth is captured as much by the limitations of expected gender roles – cleaning, mothering and the clothes that disguise the male bodies of the performers – as by the monstrosity of her behaviour. The use of opera in the soundtrack sometimes overwhelms the choreography, as its emotional impact is vivid and immersive, leaving the dancers little more than illustrations of the music. But this excursion into literary horror weaves a cerebral character study around a direct and elegiac movement vocabulary.
Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here is on tour until Sat 19 Nov. Reviewed at Tron Theatre, Glasgow.