Kally Lloyd-Jones’ Lady Macbeth: unsex me here is a riveting exploration of the psychology of Lady Macbeth, which both moves and shocks, exposing the vulnerabilities that lie beneath the face of evil. The work opens with three men, seated at their dressing tables, one behind the other across the back of the stage, preparing their makeup. A long white nightgown hangs beside each mirror, and we know that they are transforming themselves from man to woman. As in Nijinsky’s Last Jump (shown at The North Wall in May this year) Lloyd-Jones blurs the line between preparation and performance and uses simultaneous portrayal of the same character by different performers to illuminate hidden layers of her subject’s personality. Dancers Jack Webb, Thomas J. Baylis and Jacob Casselden’s distinctly individual movement styles enable them to use their solos, each to one of Lady Macbeth’s speeches, to access and reveal different aspects of her nature: shedding her womanhood; persuading her husband to commit murder, and finally sleepwalking in torment. The fact that these are men playing a woman emphasises the way in which she is, and is not, feminine, such as when all three suddenly drop the ‘babies’ they are nursing, which turn out to be stones wrapped in muslins, which end up as a heap of blood-stained bundles at the front of the stage, reminders of Macduff’s dead children.

Just as Nijinsky’s Last Jump was inspired in part by Nijinsky’s diaries, a written text is the starting point for Lady Macbeth. However, through a creative collaboration with theatre company Solar Bear, the choreography introduces a new and additional layer of meaning, by using British Sign Language (BSL) as an integral part of the dance vocabulary, involving very precise and detailed use of the dancers’ hands to express ideas rather than exact words. There are both general and particular references to the text throughout, such as when the three Lady Macbeths whirl in their blood-red skirts like three witches, or when one of them smears the other two with Duncan’s blood – is she smearing the guards or smearing herself?

The accompanying soundtrack, which includes spoken word and ranges from extracts from Verdi’s opera to Vivaldi’s Stabat mater, concluding with Mozart’s Requiem, adds a further dimension to a work that communicates in so many different ways.

This was its second performance, and the only one scheduled in England: a tremendous coup for The North Wall to stage it here in Oxford. I wish that this wonderful Scottish company could be seen more often south of the Border. As it is, the production tours to Glasgow, Inverness and Tobermoray in November http://www.chordelia.co.uk/newsdiary.

Maggie Watson

30 October 2016