Theatre relies almost entirely on transformations. From the fundamental idea of actors assuming the identity of another to the creation of a whole world made with scenery, props and other devices, it’s all just playing make believe for adults. Company Chordelia and Solar Bear’s Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here, however, is filled with more transformations than most. Using three male dancers to perform the role of Lady Macbeth, this meditative and somewhat sombre piece revisits the shadow-filled figure, using her as the catalyst for a montage of metamorphoses.
The work begins with Thomas J. Baylis, Jacob Casselden and Jack Webb seated at separate but identical dressing tables. The duplication of the scene nods to a fractured self, a fragmentary reflection like the one seen by the Lady of Shalott if she were to glance into the shattered mirror. They then begin the most common version of transformation that many of us perform: they get dressed. The gendered code of clothing is almost too obvious to mention and yet, within the space of the theatre, the donning of three heavy, red skirts takes on a stronger significance. Rather than act as superficial markers of identity, they become the alchemical cloaks signalling the dancer’s complete transmutation into the character. They also put on make up – rouge on the cheeks foreshadowing that ‘filthy witness’, blood, which adorns her hands later in Shakespeare’s plot. The individual dancers use different amounts, a directorial decision that gives Lady Macbeth, quite literally, many different faces.
Many parts of the imagery included in the piece could be interpreted in relation to what is normally known about the character – meaning her Mad Scene – but the beauty of this production is how it explores almost everything but the familiar. The most notable of these is Lady Macbeth as a mother. To conjure this absent image from Shakespeare’s play, the work again returns to a blend of actual and theatrical alchemy. Swaddling cloths filled with stones become the bundled-up babies, reminding firstly that theatre is the realm of imagination where cloth and rocks can turn into delicate infants, and secondly of the transformative state of pregnancy and motherhood, as explored by Maggie Nelson in The Argonauts.
The ultimate transformation of the piece, however, is in the emotional state of the character. Angry, grief-stricken or maternal, Kally Lloyd-Jones’s work gasps Lady Macbeth by making paradoxically making her harder and harder to easily fathom. She goes into the magician’s hat as a trope and is pulled out of it as a person.
Lady Macbeth is on until 27 August 2017 at Dance Base. Click here for more details.