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De Oscuro’s Mac//Beth at the Linbury Studio Theatre

Posted on November 26, 2013


In De Oscuro’s new production of Mac//Beth, the witches spin their deceptive prophecies in Welsh, while Lady Macbeth slides from speech into movement as she urges her husband on to murder. It’s an ambitious idea, but the staging is both rushed and pedestrian, gaining little insight from its mix of languages.

Founded in 2010 by Judith Roberts, Welsh dance theatre company De Oscuro is determinedly multilingual. In this production, directed by Roberts, the switch of languages often seems arbitrary.


The witches – played by men, and shown emerging from the landscape in filmed sequences – often speak in Welsh, as does Lady Macbeth, performed by Eddie Ladd. Perhaps that casts Welsh as a magical or female language, leaving English as the language of power, spoken by men and kings? If so, the point fades away as characters change back and forth.

There’s also no extra intimacy when Ladd switches to movement or to Welsh. Though Gerald Tyler’s gruff Macbeth lifts her up so she can wind smoothly around his shoulders, their relationship feels unexplored. Is she hungry for power in her own right, or devotedly pushing his career? Are those lifts seductive or forceful? What makes them tick, as individuals or as a couple?

Tyler and Ladd dominate the action, while Gwyn Emberton, Matthew Harries and Sean Palmer play all the other characters, switching from witches to soldiers to Banquo, Malcolm and Macduff. The movement is confident, while the verse speaking is clear but not particularly vivid. That’s evident in the Welsh sections, too – of course non-Welsh speakers will miss details of text, but voices and body language don’t do much to compensate.

Surprisingly, it’s the English sections that lose plot points, muffling the set-up of the witches’ self-fulfilling prophecies. The approach of Birnam Wood on Macbeth’s stronghold comes without explanation or visualisation. It’s all in the characters’ reactions, which fall flat.

Conor Linehan’s music is played live on stage by the Elysian Quartet. It’s a surprisingly calm, meditative score, attractive but short on drama. The production is strongest in its use of filmed and on-stage scenery, in the way the performers react to their surroundings. In film projected onto silky drapes and a plain backcloth, the witches melt and reappear in forests and on rocky hillsides. Triangular wooden blocks are rearranged as scenery. One becomes the table in the banquet scene, a social structure that is literally held up by the participants.

Ladd has the lion’s share of the dancing, held by Macbeth or carried around in state. Tyler is lifted high when he confronts Macduff, sure that he is protected by magic – then left to tumble down to earth as the charm fails. For fight scenes, the men charge into each other, bumping torsos rather than using their arms. Perhaps Roberts wants to emphasise the use of body weight; like other stylised effects in this production, it makes the conflicts look underpowered.


Photograph: Eddie Ladd as Lady Macbeth

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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