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Company Chordelia
Company Chordelia in ”Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here.“ Photograph by Jane Hobson.

A Real Triple Threat

Company Chordelia examines the character of Lady Macbeth

Performance
Company Chordelia: “Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here”
Place
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland, November 1 & 2, 2016
Words
Lorna Irvine

Three dancers, three fragmented selves, three perspectives.

Maid, mother, crone.
Murder, denial, guilt.

In this dense, chilling co-production between dance company Company Chordelia and theatre company Solar Bear, who specialise in work for D/Deaf and hearing audiences alike, Jack Webb, Thomas Baylis and Jacob Casselden all play Lady Macbeth, with choreographer and director Kally Lloyd-Jones weaving British Sign Language into tough gender-neutral choreography. This is a powerful way to express her side of “the Scottish play,” as it works on many levels, depending on how much sign language is known—although it is wholly inclusive, and integrated in such a way as to be accessible for a wide audience. The three men are wonderfully expressive throughout the piece, creating a sense of tangible tension, with tacit poetry in their every swoop, roll and kick.

Janis Hart’s set is a simple yet beautiful triple chamber, where the men sit primping at mirrors, ritually rouging their cheeks. The colour palette is black, white and of course blood red. The trio’s movements are often piecemeal, they move not as one entity, but rather individually, right down to the pacing as they don red silk skirts, which swish in circular motions around their ankles. They elegantly sway like pendulums and kick out bare legs, before assuming more martial stances. Prescribed behaviour of men and women is therefore addressed in violent gestures of swordplay for men and tender child-caring for women, before being picked apart. Swords are discarded, and the ‘swaddling’ cloth material is revealed to contain stones dropped to the floor: there were hints of Lady Macbeth’s motherhood in the text, but it was never directly confirmed.

Even the costumes become as props from Shakespeare’s era—the act of wearing red an audacious one, evoking fire and power and only worn by the rich; the white undergarments purity and the white nightdresses something to protect a girl’s modesty. The men lie together on the floor, rocking silently from side to side when in white. Such rocking motions recur again and again: potentially a double meaning for a baby in a cradle, or an asylum patient who cannot be still.

“Come, you spirits, that tend on mortal thoughts/Unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood,” demands Georgina Bell Godolphin’s eerie metallic voiceover as Lady Macbeth along with her husband orders the death of Duncan in such a way as a heartless warrior would.

The repeated patterns of movement and facial expressions emulate the swift unravelling of Lady Macbeth’s mind—Webb screams silently like a demon; Casselden wears the hurt of a wounded child, Baylis’ face is a mask of torture. Claw hands, which in BSL symbolise confusion, are a recurring motif, and the devil horns certainly need no explanation. The famous sleepwalking scene in which she cries, “Out, damned spot” is represented by frenzied scrubbing, the swaddling clothes now cloths to scrub away furious blood stains—implicit not only that a murder has been committed, but that a woman’s lot (wife, mother, domestic drudge, second to men) in the Elizabethan era was akin to a kind of purgatory.

As the opera soundtrack reaches its elegiac climax, so too the story resolves itself in the most troubling way. The trio eviscerate themselves, as only alluded to by Malcolm in the play (happening offstage “by self and violent hands”). Baylis, the slightest of the dancers, is anointed and scrubbed, then held aloft and carried by Casselden and Webb like a fallen god/goddess, only for the men to return to the three chambers, ready to begin the whole process all over again—the nightmare made flesh, stained forever red in an eternal dark night.