Judith Roberts’s Cardiff-based company De Oscuro specialises in performances that combine English and Welsh. Her new version of Macbeth is multilingual in more senses than one. It does mix Shakespeare’s text with a Welsh translation (by Mererid Hopwood), but it also makes a point of bringing together other “languages”: music, video, speech, dance, set design.
The pared-down story is enacted by a cast of five: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (Gerald Tyler and Eddie Ladd), with Banquo, Malcolm and Macduff (Gwyn Emberton, Matthew Harries and Sean Palmer) doubling for the three witches. Conor Linehan’s appealing score, performed live by the Elysian Quartet, sounds almost continuously through the 85-minute work, but remains unobtrusive. But Rodrigo Sánchez’s video projections are heavy-handed: a fanged snake is linked with Lady Macbeth; buzzards circle in preparation for battle; big bursts of flame underline dramatic moments. The set works better. Gauze curtains variously suggest mists, ghosts and unborn children, while large triangular blocks are manoeuvred to form walls, tables, mountains, sometimes melodramatically toppled to produce resounding thuds.
The dancing is curiously half-hearted – scuffles and lifts that are physical enough, but trail after the text rather than taking the stage or developing into choreography. And the language? Shakespeare’s text carries its own gravitas, and, for all I know, so does the Welsh; but the reason for combining them remains obscure. It does produce some fascinating effects, such as Macbeth reciting in English the same lines that his wife is pouring out in Welsh, so that his voice becomes a version of hers; but such devices seem more piecemeal than thematic. In any case, the best scenes – Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking, Macbeth’s hallucinatory encounter with the witches – are those in which speech and story take a back seat, letting sound and sensation come to the fore.