ZOO, Edinburgh – until 29 August 2016
Reviewer: Joe Christie
Fresh and experimental, the Ludens Ensemble’s reimagining of the Scottish play is an Expressionist fantasia of sound, projection and movement.
The Edinburgh based Ludens Ensemble obviously take theatrical superstition very seriously – there is not one muttering of the eponymous he-who-shall-not-be-named during their take on Shakespeare’s much-adapted text. In fact, not a word is uttered at all. More than just a silent ode to the Bard, Macbeth: Without Words is a layered affair which is as much an homage to the aesthetic spectacle of early cinema and Commedia dell’arte as it to its source material.
Style in mind, if this production mirrors a wordier Macbeth, it is that of Alan Cumming’s bonkers asylum-set solo performance from a few years back. Ludens present a tragedy in monochrome, using clinical sheets of cellophane to cocoon the three-strong ensemble inside with their inner turmoil, as they hurtle towards eventual mental deterioration. The music, mixed live on stage is more abstract; as is the hit-and-miss video art, which looks ripped straight from the pages of the Rorschach test.
Subtlety is certainly not the name of the game here, but in the end, the commitment of the production to its creative conceits, such as the inspired use of shadow and on-stage lamps, win you over. There are moments which cross the line: summoning the ghost of Banquo by placing a plastic sheet on an actor’s head is too on the nose; as is some of the audio, which represents Lady Macbeth as otherworldly by playing what could be samples from Close Encounters of The Third Kind.
There is an element of give-and-take in the relationship between this bold interpretation and the play itself. To support the storytelling, choice moments from the text are projected on to plastic as if inter-titles, which keeps the action brisk and clear. A consequence of this though is that scenes such as Banquo’s murder lose their weight in the commotion of telling this story in an hour.
But to tackle the heart of this beast, you cannot get away the fact that removing language from a Shakespeare will create impediments to conveying the rich dimensionality of his stories; layers which in this case are not sufficiently compensated for through any potential new perspectives introduced by the movement. This is not to do a disservice of the sterling ability of the cast, performing otherwise strong – often irreverent – choreography, and smart blocking that picks apart the power dynamics with gusto.
Indeed, the haywire ending brings out the best of the work: the talent of the performers (Adam Tompa, Dylan Read and Persefoni Gerangelou), the creativity of Alice Wilson’s design and punch of the text find a meeting place in Birnam Wood. A shame, perhaps, that the force of the artistic punch leaves little time for the bruises to surface.
Running time:1 hour
ZOO (Venue 124) 140 Pleasance, EH8 9RR (The Sanctuary)
Sun 14 – Monday 29 August 2016
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/macbeth-without-words
Ludens Ensemble: www.ludensensemble.co.uk/
Ludens Ensemble Facebook: ludensensemble
Ludens Ensemble Twitter: @LudensEnsemble
This is a new version of Ludens Ensemble’s 2015 show: Macbeth In Silence (review)