Violence lurks in every corner of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, from supernatural malevolence to visceral carnage. Mark Bruce’s new take on the production taps into classic horror tropes to animate this force, employing gory costuming and spine-chilling stagecraft to tell the tale of ambition turned toxic. Set to an eerie score of devotional compositions and staged at Wilton’s Music Hall, with its dramatic arches and labyrinthine passages, it makes for dark, atmospheric viewing.
Macbeth isn’t Bruce’s first time at the horror show; one of the choreographer’s best-known works is a 2013 dance theatre version of Dracula, which secured several accolades and earned Jonathan Goddard the National Dance Award for Best Male Dancer for his turn in the title role. Bruce has a strong background in dance and drama, and has created a number of dance theatre productions in the past 25 years, both on international companies and his own troupe, formed in 1991.
Here he turns his attention from an actual monster to a man on the precipice of becoming one. His Macbeth is a blue-suited bruiser with a sphinx-like stare and a taste for tattoos. Goddard, again at the helm, embodies this tough-guy exterior solidly and does an even better job letting it crumble after Macbeth’s ruinous move to murder the king and seize the crown for himself. Long-framed and unnervingly calm, he skates around his strife until it spirals out into warped curves and interrupted twists.
Lady Macbeth (Eleanor Duval) is less subtle, wearing her greed – and later, her dread – on her sleeve. It’s hard to conceive of her as a mastermind of manipulation when her motives seem so transparent – she literally snatches the dead king’s crown while his body is still on the pyre – but Duval leans into the melodrama, commanding strong lines and arch staredowns with the audience.
The production plots the power couple’s ascent and downfall with brisk economy, the mercury rising swiftly as they amass a mounting body count and boiling over mightily once their paranoia sets in. Grisly spectres haunt Macbeth’s coronation, creepy babydolls encroach on Lady Macbeth’s dreams, and the pair’s racy duets – flurries of drastic dips and lunges – morph into blood-drenched waltzes, Macbeth decked out in a monstrous gear.
The seven supporting cast members do a fine job weaving in and out of these nightmarish visions, particularly the betrayed Banquo (Jorde Calpe Serrats), whose bloodied apparition prowls the shadows. Between them, these dancers represent a slew of characters – including Macbeth’s victims and the play’s infamous witches – and all of them show up to take down the antihero in the final scene, with arch-enemy Macduff delivering the final blow.
The production’s choreographic language favours sweeping movements and recurring hints of Scottish folk steps. It soars during certain group scenes – including an urgent Ceilidh-inspired gallop in the first half – but feels clipped in others, like the witches’ routines, where they clomp around like evil marionettes, one slightly out of time. Given their instrumentality to Macbeth’s undoing, it’s a shame Bruce neglects to plough their premonitory powers; instead of prophetic agents of chaos, the witches are cast as screeching vamps who flit in and out to intensify the paranormal terror – a relegated role that weakens the show’s psychological acuity, failing to capture the play’s complex tension between fate and free will. Carina Howard is the best of the bunch in terms of in-your-face malice, though her talent is better placed as the king’s bereft daughter, her grief unchained in a swinging solo with sharp poses and chugs.
The styling takes in East End sleaze and goth chic alike, with fur stoles, clingy black minis and combat boots aplenty. Masks also get a look-in, from bloodied veils to Friday the 13th-style guises, and the artistic team makes estimable use of special effects like foggy blackouts. The production’s psychological nuance might be lacking, but this rock-and-roll treatment hits a real high note.