Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth at Wilton’s Music Hall lacks focus in its attempt to shed new light on Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth falls into an unfortunate trap that afflicts many re-interpretations of Shakespeare’s work. This is a case of throwing too many ideas and techniques into the mix in the hope something insightful will emerge, instead of developing a well-thought through and clearly focused interpretation of the bard’s complex and nuanced work.
It is danced by a talented cast of actor-dancers, who are well-rounded performers with an excellent sense of commitment to their roles. However, Mark Bruce’s choreography is mostly underdeveloped and repetitive. There are some strong ideas, for example the marionette-like movements of the witches that are gradually adopted by those afflicted by the prophecy. There are also some ensemble moments that are aesthetically invigorating and capture the frenetic and troubled atmosphere of the world they inhabit. However, for the most part, the effectiveness hinges heavily on each performer’s interpretation of the role, with a limited contribution from the prescribed movement itself.
There are some confusing and ill-considered design choices. I do not envy the task of costuming a show with a sizeable, multi-rolling ensemble cast with many costume changes. However, it is clear that this approach has stretched the budget to the extent where none of the costumes look like they belong on a professional stage. They have not been created with dance in mind: inflexible fabrics of tight suits and formal dresses dramatically inhibit the movement of the performers. With a very straightforward set design, which is aesthetically pleasing (but situates the activity on the outskirts of a city, for reasons not explored), the piece depends heavily on costume. It strikes me that the company could work with budget constraints by taking a more abstract approach, that, crucially, prioritises the movements of the dancers. In addition, there is excessive use of props to create a sense symbolism and ritual, which feels heavy-handed and muddled. The cast are all heavily tattooed, in what comes across as an unsubtle attempt to be ‘edgy’. The production condenses the action into 90 minutes: it would be powerful and sensible to take a less convoluted approach to the work.
There are, however, positive sparks littered across the piece. One of the more interesting aspects is exploration of the impact of Macbeth’s actions on his murder victims and their families, which sheds fresh perspective on the story. For example, when we see Macbeth murder the two guards on stage, it was the first time I had considered that in the play, their lowly status renders the action morally less significant than his other crimes.
One element which stands out as exceptional is Guy Hoare’s lighting design. Indeed, it is the most simple and visceral moments, using light and multiple bodies, which demonstrate the potential for an effective dance interpretation of the work.