When we learned last year that Mark Bruce was going to premiere a new production of Macbeth, we immediately marked the dates in our calendar. We had seen and loved his Dracula, a great example of clear storytelling in dance and stylish treatment of a pop-culture icon. Bruce’s Dracula is a fresh take on the Victorian classic with neither mega-budget, nor pseudo-intellectual interpretations. In other words, with none of the excesses which most narrative dance pieces seem to fall prey to these days. We still remember how well the choreography served the story, and how it managed to transcend the small space for which it was created. And this winning formula is now used in the company’s adaptation of Macbeth.
As a choreographer who excels in dark drama, Mark Bruce’s choice of Shakespearean text should come as no surprise: Macbeth is a play about ambition, power, about the supernatural and the dark, a rich canvas for the always excellent Jonathan Goddard, who leads the cast in the title role. Renowned for being both technically and dramatically gifted, Goddard is the ideal frame for Bruce’s tortured would-be-king, bringing sobriety to the quiet moments, red-blooded desire in his exchanges with Eleanor Duval’s powerful Lady Macbeth, and chilling self-hatred when everything comes crumbling down and paranoia sets in.
The production is visually arresting, sensorial even, and Arvo Pärt’s music brings an almost religious layer to it. The stage at Wilton’s Music Hall is left relatively bare, setting an eerie mood, with characters emerging from literal darkness. The lighting by Guy Hoare guides us through the evening, with suggestions of crimson skies, funeral pyres and rivers of blood. A string of white lights at the edge of the stage is directed towards the audiences at each scene change, so that we cannot see the busy stage hands (a clever solution), while the story moves forward efficiently.
Designs are minimal but effective, particularly when it comes to the use of props and imagery: from a single dagger on a pedestal (Is this a dagger which I see before me?), to the witches, who wear feathered harpy-like hairpieces that disguise their deformed faces (Fair is foul and foul is fair), from the scorpion tattoos worn by the central characters (Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!) to the use of blood and gore (Here’s the smell of the blood still).
The movement is well structured, with Bruce filling the stage using a cast of nine. The choreography is sleek for the Macbeths (think sensual duets), yet slowly distorting as the story progresses. There is plenty of grounded movement, but it becomes contrastingly aerial during the dynamic battle scenes, and there are sections that evoke Scottish courtly dances. As we reach the chilling prophetic scene where Macbeth is confronted by King Duncan’s daughter (since he cannot be killed by “any man born of woman”), here accompanied by Macduff and Fleance, we are captivated by a version of Macbeth that is modern and full of sensorial impact. Do not miss the opportunity to catch it.