By Danielle Farrow
Annemarie de Bruijn’s Lady M for Netherlands’ Het Vijfde Bedrijf (The Fifth Act) is – to use that oft-used phrase – a ‘tour de force’. Written and performed by the actress, this is an entertaining and mesmerising showcase for her cheeky charm, concentrated physicality and focused terror.
Engaging her audience from entry with cheery chatter, this servant in the household of the Macbeths has much to say about Shakespeare’s choices when it comes to writing his characters in and out. Reduced to a bit part, illustrating with beautifully specific detail the course of her day in contrast to Macbeth’s and Banquo’s, showing the minutiae of her service and her adoration of Lady Macbeth, she gleefully leads you through bursts of laughter and meta-theatrical commentary, before creating a profound understanding of horror.
De Bruijn’s comic timing and physicality, her immersion in the world of this maid – who sees what she should not and, for silence, is raised from pigsty and garbage duties to wait upon her lady directly – is captivating and truly impressive. Occasional stillness is heightened by sections of high speed delivery which propel the play along, though meaning is sometimes diffused for Shakespeare’s lines and some necessary words are lost.
The staging is simple and clever. Set includes a bed frame, where the maid is bloodied (this motif as strong here as in Shakespeare’s play) and a lidded box that is chicken coop, pigsty and murder beds. Lighting and sound create the contrasting atmospheres of daily domesticity and slaughtering tyranny, and the Macbeths are present in occasional voice over as well as animated by the actress herself. A particular sound highlight is a cry that is repeated – a shriek of shocking impact that becomes the caw of those ominous birds of Shakespeare’s rich imagery: the raven that croaks himself hoarse, the crow that wings its way to the rooky wood.
The play shifts from comedy to tragedy and the servant’s journey of promotion and loss mirrors her mistress’s. Where Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, her maid is tortured by insomnia, both wishing to be clean of the blood that haunts them, and the resultant climax of this terror, combined with disillusionment for the maid, would indeed be worthy of Shakespeare’s talents – if only he had thought to write it. Instead, the servant must tell you, raising herself from bit part to central figure, fighting for the right of minor characters to be heard and calling for a justification of Shakespeare’s choices and a redress in her favour, while catching audience members squarely in the eye and making a fair stab for their guts as well.
Lady M is an awe-inspiring piece of solo theatre that impresses greatly with de Bruijn’s skills and stamina, reminds of hidden life that is contained within every person and highlights the drama of Shakespeare’s Scottish play by turning it inside out and, in one aspect, upside down.