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Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here

Company Chordelia

Genre: Circus, Dance, Physical Theatre

Venue: Dance Base


Low Down

‘Top Five Must-See Dance Shows, 2017 (Guardian). From the Herald Angel Award-winning creator of five-star Fringe hit Nijinsky’s Last Jump comes a powerful new piece of dance theatre exploring the ambition, power and remorse of one of Shakespeare’s most complex women. Paralleling Shakespeare’s time, a talented cast of three male dancers all play Lady Macbeth, exploring the relationship between masculinity and femininity. This co-production with Solar Bear uses British Sign Language as an integral part of the choreography, creating a unique, visceral show for all audiences. (EdFringe website).’


This production is elegant, eloquent; rigorously considered; viscerally actualized; magnetically and magnificently performed. Three male dancers play overlapping iterations of Shakespeare’s ‘leading lady’: mother, victim, lover, author, woman. Most crucially, person. Conceptually, Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here is genius. The show is impeccably expressive, and successfully fleshes out a new and vital dimension to Shakespeare’s character which the text does not allow her to live. Every motion tells, every artistic choice evidences the passion and understanding which has clearly been poured into this utter work of art. It is a powerful joy to watch; a rare and rich ‘eternal jewel’.

The scene is set by three alike dressing rooms at the back of the stage. At the beginning of the show, the three dancers – Thomas J Baylis, Jacob Casselden and Jack Webb – put on make-up and brush their hair. Before each dance, each phase exploring Lady’s Macbeth’s journey, the three performers return to clothe themselves anew, or to retrieve a new prop or piece of symbolism. This charged the piece with ritualism which never faltered, so when the vulnerable madness of Lady Macbeth is later played out, her tragedy is fully realised in a way which it cannot be with just the stage direction ‘A cry of women within’ and the Seyton’s words, ‘The queen, my lord, is dead.’ It also highlighted her need as a character to perform, to disguise thought with contrary, public action, ‘lest occasion call us’: for her husband, for the court, and for her own, dwindling sanity. Janis Hart’s design is smouldering. Blood red skirts and sweeping black capes engulfed the stage and accentuated every moment of drama. One dancer smears their bloodied hands on the others’ unspoiled nightgowns. Lady Macbeth is gradually shut out by her husband, as ally and accomplice. Though her deed is murderous, such actions felt like a reclamation of her autonomy by demonstrating her profound isolation.

Choreographed in collaboration with the cast, Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here preserves Shakespeare’s tongue through incorporating British Sign Language into its dance and physical theatre. Considerate of audience members who are unable to appreciate the sonic elements of the production, and who otherwise miss out on the sound of Shakespeare’s verse, can experience it differently, holistically, brought to life in movements which spell meaning. Long, poised lines intersperse with frantic, knotting fingers and skittish feet and a silent, screaming mouth. Sometimes running, sometimes pacing; moving in a breath between slow, methodical sequences and frantic, jerky movements, everything is paced with suspense and refinement. Instances of repetition and canon further conveyed the tumult of a tortured mind. As well as dancing together, each performer had their own imaginative solo, filtering the production with careful light and shade. The most transfixing passages were the sleepwalking and burial. Lady Macbeth has no funeral, but in this retelling, the dancers lay each other’s bodies to rest. Turbulent and tautly danced to stirring and disturbing effect, the result is entirely beautiful.

Lights are used well to convey shifts in tone and place, interweaving with the action to thicken the fabric of darkness and mystique which envelops the show. Sound and music are electrifying: words and phrases fragmented from Lady Macbeth’s monologues echo, undulate and resonate throughout the space, overlaid onto ambient soundscapes. The sonority of the original verse is caught and amplified. Sounds of the wilderness and of forceful winds helped create different settings within and without the imagined castle. Ranging from contemporary composer Valgeir Sigurðsson to Mozart’s Requiem aeternam, the movement did not attempt to be imitative of the music, but rather the music purposefully juxtaposed the action, colliding sight with sound.

Delving straight into the fiery friction between masculine and feminine in Shakespeare’s text, Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here shows through three male physicalities the burden of being this woman. In Shakespeare’s play, in the monologue which proclaims itself partly in this production’s title, Lady Macbeth invokes dark spirits to strip her of the natural functions which she perceives as being limitations on her will to usurp. She sexually manipulates Macbeth by threatening what she terms his masculine pride: ‘When you durst do it, then you were a man’. Kally Lloyd-Thomas’ concept is more than just a harking back to the past, when only men and boys would perform on stage. It embodies an undyingly relevant argument about sexual politics, and the toxicity of normative narratives as to what behaviour is strictly ‘manly’ and ‘womanly’. Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here blurs these boundaries with transcendent flair; from the smallest, and most crucial, aesthetic choices; to the dancers’ contorting, spinning, leaping bodies, which are still moving as the lights fade to black. This is sublimity: verse in dance.