Mark Bruce Company: Macbeth – Wilton’s Music Hall, London

Choreographer and Director: Mark Bruce

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

It is a coincidence of weather that walking to a dance version of Macbeth at Wilton’s Music Hall during the “Best from the East” cold spell makes one empathise about how it may feel to trudge across a blasted Highland heath, the cold wind biting at one’s extremities.

One can only imagine how one might feel if, in such weather, you came across three women who would go on to tell you that you would inherit a succession of titles that would ultimately lead to you becoming King. The sense of disorientation that would surely arise is one of many elements of Shakespeare’s tale of bloody murder, power-grabbing and karmic justice that Mark Bruce Company’s dance interpretation evocatively provides.

In Bruce’s vision the witches, led by Carina Howard, have an initial grace to them, transforming into possessed demons only as they deliver their prophecies to Jonathan Goddard’s Macbeth and Jordi Calpe Serrats’s Banquo. That transformation – the only point of the production where the classical score (mostly taken from works by Arvo Pärt) breaks into rock, with a burst of Sonic Youth as the witches don gauze masks and writhe about, disconcertingly pulling themselves along the thrust stage by their elbows.

At other times, the progression of Shakespeare’s tale demands less dance, and more purposeful strutting. A fight sequence apart – a necessarily visual way to have Macbeth acquire the title of Thane of Cawdor – it is not until Goddard is reunited with his Lady Macbeth, in the shape of Eleanor Duval, that this really begins to feel like a fully-danced piece. And while on occasion the choreography includes some jocular skipping sequences which seem at odds with the mood of the piece as a whole, in the main the concept of Macbeth as ballet is a winner.

Any production of this play hinges on the relationship between the Macbeths – any imbalance between this power couple and the whole delicate premise of their murderous power-broking would fall apart. Thankfully, Goddard and Duval are spellbinding together, provoking and inspiring each other as they plot to fulfil the witches’ prophecy.

But the spectre of some higher (or lower) power overseeing their machinations is never far away. In casting Howard and fellow witch Daisy West in dual roles (playing Duncan’s daughter and Lady Macduff respectively), Bruce gives us a sense that whatever demon inspired the witches’ initial transformations is omnipresent, pushing the players around the board with the glee of a demented grandmaster.

It really is one of the most atmospheric productions of Macbeth that one can remember, down in no small part to impressive lighting by Guy Hoare which enhances every scene, often unveiling new locations as the work of an art restorer may pick out spots of colour from within the murk of an Old Master.

The lack of dialogue allows Bruce to compress the story to under two hours, without losing the sense of mounting tension and inevitable downfall. The productions’ finest moments come in Act II, most notably with the death of Banquo and his ghost’s subsequent reappearance during the feast. Godard and Serrats have an easy chemistry as friends and colleagues, which further plays into an electrifying succession of sequences between them as Banquo’s story plays to conclusion.

But in this ultimate morality tale, the Macbeths must pay for their sins. For Lady M, this means a descent into madness, Duval ensuring we continue to feel sympathy for her even as she draws her last breath.

In contrast, while Goddard’s Macbeth battles valiantly as the encroaching army surrounds him, his final struggle with Macduff concludes in blackout. Such a decision robs us of a final striking image that could have served as a reminder of the journey Mark Bruce Company have taken us on. For a show which otherwise provides us with such striking visuals, it’s a surprising misstep.

Continues until 17 March | Image: Nicole Guarino & Mark Bruce

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