Macbeth lays on the dance drama (McDuff)

Mark Bruce Company Macbeth

So often is it referenced, quoted and no doubt misquoted, that this is a play that one thinks one knows despite having never seen it. Macbeth lays on strata of drama addressing greed, the lust for power, corruption by power and the power of guilt. I had previously seen Kurosawa’s samurai film version Throne of Blood and so did know the story pretty well; however, nothing could prepare me for the impact of this dance version on stage at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre. Totally enthralling!

This is actually quite a compact version of the play, with some significant parts excluded but none the worse in this context. The company is small with the now it seems usual trick of performers cycling between different parts. Only Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had unique roles. Having said which the dancing was so tightly planned and executed that the stage seemed often to be filled with people. Masks were well used to help suspend reality as the same people slotted into different roles. There was a guessing game of who was going to be Banquo, McDuff etc, the lighting making them difficult to track and recognise.

Lighting accentuated the drama and atmosphere: as seems now ubiquitous, performers were rarely lit frontally, instead side and uplighting being used to cast shadows across their faces. The music was exceptional and scored precisely to match the action. We were not given programmes, but I think the music was a mix of chosen and specially composed sounds. Naturally minor keys predominated, but styles switched between heavy metal and classical dance music. It was a little deafening at times.

The dance style was balletic, but clearly influenced by Scottish dances which was only right, to hazard an opinion. The execution was brilliant and as ever when watching dance, I am jealous of the grace and agility shown. At one stage the action switched from a brutal murder to a serene dance scene in the space of seconds, a useful contrast. Aside from a scream and some grunts this show has no dialogue, everything from eroticism to horror being expressed through movement and facial expression and it must take a lot of skill to achieve this. At times the dancing did err towards the ridiculous to my mind, but this is a pernickety observation and nobody seemed to be laughing. In balance there was a genuine creepiness around the three witches with whom the play starts; these witches were far from the crones featured in many Shakespeare versions, but somehow exuded evil.

From the witches’ first appearance we see Macbeth win a battle for the king, wonder why he bothered, overthrow and murder the king, assume the crown, murder a friend, be intimidated by the friend’s ghost, start to get the guilts and finally be overthrown in another battle seen. As poor Macbeth is skewered by multiple spears, we realised how the game of ker-plunk was invented. I would observe that the stage notes on the version I have here, say ‘McDuff re-enters carrying Macbeth’s head’ – we were spared that one.

Women’s role in this play is strong, from the witches manipulative prophecies, to Lady Macbeth’s destructive ambition. Lady Macbeth as an example of strong womanhood, or an example of raging misogyny: discuss! Whichever is the case, Lady Macbeth is strong and gets what she wants rejecting passivity; however, as the guilt closes in blood literally appears on her hands and she is overcome. This was actually quite moving. Gestures throughout seemed to be indicating the character’s desire for a child, jealousy when presented with another’s off spring being thinly disguised.

I did thoroughly enjoy this production and congratulations to all involved in the Mark Bruce company. I must quickly mention the very clever set on which the show was performed. The house was not full but those that were there were rapt; several curtain calls were taken. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were not booed, so they had not forced that degree of suspension of reality, but they deserved great praise for the power and subtlety of their dancing, which so totally brought out this un-matchable play’s soul.

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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