Dance brings welcome release from the grim brutality of this stylish production.
Following Joe Hill-Gibbin's revamp of Measure for Measure The Young Vic stages another shake up of Shakespeare courtesy of director/choreographer duo Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin. Having already revealed an arresting creative vision in their Medea (National Theatre 2014), the duo take on another canonical classic, exploring the brutal politics of Macbeth.
The production, with design by Lizzie Clachan (As You Like It, National Theatre), is abrasively topical. The stage is a black tunnel that recedes into a tiny entrance, with one white tiled cell that slides in and out of view. The nobility of Scotland dress in jumpsuits, and scenes of torture and execution are uncomfortably reminiscent of contemporary conflict.
Cracknell’s Scotland is a cold and oppressive place where kings dress in sharp suits and the dying cries of murdered subjects are suffocated through plastic bags. The bagged bodies of former victims lie about the stage.
The dance element is focused on the witches, whose appearance heralds death in almost every scene, and there’s even a streak of horror film style in the hellish, masked and strobe-lit murder of MacDuff’s family.
But what does all this bring to Shakespeare’s Macbeth? Cracknell’s version dwells on the claustrophobia of fate and a disturbed mind. The black tunnel mimics inevitability, and the brutal, sterile violence is meted out in such similar ways as to seem by a systematic force.
In the original there’s some release to be found in the sense of wide Scottish landscapes, the fogged heaths on which the weird sisters appear. Not so here. Confined to the tunnel, the only relief comes from the warped and repetitive but refreshingly, pulsingly active dance. But to the throbbing electronic base, even this belongs underground.
The dancers are a highlight, particularly the fabulous Thomasin Gülgeç, and Lucy Guerin’s choreography breathes threat and violence. There are sound peformances from John Heffernan (Ripper Street, BBC; Oppenheimer, RSC) as Macbeth and double BAFTA awarding-winning stage and screen actor Anna Maxwell Martin (Bleak House, BBC; Poppy Shakespeare, Channel 4) as Lady Macbeth, although there’s a sense that they are better suited to a more straightforward production, offering little variation on the standard readings.
The whole show turns on the interplay between action and inaction, and the dance element brings a clever twist to that tension, but key performances don’t offer the nuance to justify the production. Slick, stylish and ambitious, we are left with a play that is too grim for its own good.
|What||Macbeth, Young Vic review|
|Where||The Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Southwark (underground)|
26 Nov 15 – 23 Jan 16, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here to book via the Young Vic|