Dramatic chiaroscuro lighting. A trio of women, dressed as stylish night clubbers, screaming bloody murder on a soaked heath. A taxidermy crow, stuffed as if in flight; a decapitated head in a box. Shadows moving on the crumbling walls of an old music hall, bent on mysterious and cruel practices.
If this sounds like a classic Gothic horror film, you wouldn’t be far off. Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth at Wilton’s Music Hall takes the spookiest, bloodiest, most noir strands of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy and runs them with gusto. The chic, sensational horror aesthetic dominates the production; indeed, at times, it overshadows the nuance and burned-out, soul-rending misery that provides much of the play’s depth. Mark Bruce’s Macbeth has drama and style in gallons, but, for all the shrieking, murder and agony, surprisingly little in the way of emotional power.
It is set in an indeterminate era that sees Macbeth – Jonathan Goddard, moving with a wiry, lynx-like power – in a restrained suit and a crown recalling Wiktor Sadowski’s poster design for Verdi’s Macbeth, but the three witches looking confusingly like they’ve just been round Topshop and are about to go out on the town. Indeed, the trio sections with the witches, with their balletic arms and kittenish bodily jabs, look as if they could have been choreographed for an edgy high street advert.
Phil Eddoll’s gorgeous stage design has blood-and-coal hued skylines bisected by distant tower blocks providing the backdrop for the rusting scaffolding of a country mid-war and ultra-modern funeral pyres that are somehow both ancient and contemporary. The stellar combination of set design and light design – Guy Hoare filling the stage with deep shadows, silhouettes and sudden slices of light that have the richly layered quality of an oil painting – provides much of the aesthetic thrill of the big ensemble pieces. At the infamous banquet where Macbeth faces Banquo’s ghost, the cast move through a spectrally slow and intricate adaptation of traditional Scottish dances; the contrast has genuine dramatic clout.
Goddard’s Macbeth is ably partnered by Eleanor Duval’s Lady Macbeth. Their duets, as they plot and scheme and fracture before one another, have a morbid and striking sensuality. Duval’s expansive spins, her swift, bursting jumps, are pulled back into Goddard’s tense gyre again and again – though her ferocity is unrelenting and doesn’t allow her to showcase much in the way of emotional range. Other characters are rather left by the wayside. Poor Macduff, a central character, feels like an afterthought, choreographically; Fleance is almost a footnote.
The Gothic absolutism is the production’s weakness and its strength. On the one hand, it is startlingly evocative. Mark Bruce has situated his Macbeth somewhere in a music video by The Cure, somewhere in a film adaptation for Melvin Burgess’s Bloodtide, and somewhere in Guillermo del Toro’s darkest imaginings. If this sounds like it might be your cup of wine, then this Macbeth is one for you. But as a vehicle for one of the great tragedies, as an involving narrative, and, alas, as a truly varied piece of choreography, Macbeth isn’t quite as fleshed out as it needs to be.
Macbeth is on until 17 March 2018 at Wilton’s Music Hall. Click here for more details.