Interpretive dance is something many approach with a sense of trepidation and bewilderment. Can the movement of people’s bodies in strange and sometimes physically unbelievable ways tell a lucid and engaging story that encourages the audience to respond to well-known texts differently?
This is Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin’s aim in their adaption of Shakespeare’s Macbeth at The Young Vic. How can a canonical text, taught in almost every single British school, be reimagined for an audience that knows it so well? Introduce bizarre and superfluous segments of interpretive dance, of course!
He’s a forgettable macbeth, going through the motions but never fully committing to the characters darkness
Dance fails to complement acting in this production. The cast perform a scene of dialogue and then a piece of narrative (Birnam forest coming to Dunsinane, for example) is interpreted physically. It is almost like watching two different performances, as the main cast members do not partake in the dance segments, creating a sense of incoherence. The play lurches from dialogue to dance, the witches come and go, throwing some edgy but not remotely frightening shapes, whilst bass-heavy electronic music is used repetitively and predictably.
John Heffernan plays a forgettable Macbeth, going through the motions but never fully committing to the character’s darkness. It is good to see the sensitive side of the doomed king, but the ruthlessness that leads him to murder friends and allies does not surface. The lengths the protagonist goes to reach his goal should chill the audience, instead we are asked to simply accept his evil deeds and gain a glimpse into his inner turmoil through those distracting dance sequences. Anna Maxwell Martin fares better as Lady Macbeth: her dual identity as charming wife and ambitious schemer presented subtly, although rushed lines prevent Shakespeare’s text from coming through clearly at times.
However, Cracknell and Guerin’s production contains flashes of brilliance: the play set is a single long corridor, the décor reminiscent of a nuclear bunker. Playing with perspective, it narrows to a small opening upstage, creating an intriguing space. The actors’ bodies shift, mingling with shadows to create a disconcerting, warped environment, representing the turmoil of the Macbeths’ minds. We are plunged into a generic, seemingly modern-day world that lacks soul, war being a constant presence.
it’s never a good sign to be looking at your watch during one of shakespeare’s most memorable plays
The directors show an inexplicable preference for almost every murder to take place using the plastic bag over head technique, something that screams ‘current’ and ‘topical’ due to its similarity with modern day torture practices, but appears a little patronising in attempting to force the audience to place Shakespeare in a modern context. Perhaps this was done for the benefit of the hordes of GCSE students that inevitably take up a significant proportion of seats in the auditorium.
Cracknell and Guerin’s Macbeth is a two hour affair without an interval yet feels significantly longer. It is never a good sign to be looking at your watch forty-five minutes into a performance of one of Shakespeare’s most memorable and electric plays. The directors’ aim is clear, but their execution is flawed, lacking synthesis between acting and dance, exploration of the protagonist’s complexity, and actual scary witches. A highly innovative piece that sacrifices intelligibility for originality.