Macbeth is a seasoned veteran of being set in different scenarios—asylums, communist era bunkers, even outer space. So when a company describes their production as ‘updated for the 21st century’, you have to take it with a pinch of salt. In Breakfast Cat Theatre's production, directed by Paul Grace, the company transposes the Scottish play onto the riots that shook London in summer 2011. The conceit has promise, as the backstabbing and plotting fit in as well to modern street gangs as it does to medieval Scottish nobility, but overall, the production fails to move the text into new directions.
The play begins up-tempo with the entire tracksuit-adorned cast aimlessly running amok amongst the audience, with bags of clothes, trainers, and boxes of electronic gear. Grace opts for an earthly Macbeth, with much of the supernatural removed. The witches are reduced to three Alco pop swigging trouble makers, and the banquet scene does away with the ghost, leaving the audience to think Macbeth is paranoid and imagining the whole thing. This point is emphasised when Macbeth is seen shooting up with the witches, who are receiving picture messages and texts from their familiars.
Roberto Prestoni, who plays the title character, is intense, but flat. He is sneering and paranoid in his portrayal—a choice to show how drugged up he is—but we miss any sense of up and down within the character. His other half, Helena Nattress, is brilliant, as a glamorous and ambitious Lady Macbeth. However, Nattress does not seem to fit in because of her classy clothes and pronunciation that is out of sync with the chavvy and urban look of the play. She is a great Lady Macbeth, playing the role with subtly and elegance, but is too different from everyone else. Grace clearly wants to distinguish her as the real power, but goes too far.
By casting the rest of the characters as gang members, their nobility is removed entirely. Even though Duncan is the ‘King’, it’s very clear he’s only king of a small part of the underworld. Upon his murder, a news announcement plays that a gang member’s body has been found in a car park, which contrasts the overly lofty tones and ambitions of the language with the insignificance of a gang. The supporting cast might as well be all the same person, with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth getting much more stage time than in other performances.
There is some attempt to play about with the text. Monologues are read out as texts, and the banquet scene replaces standard banquet fare with pizza boxes, cans of lager and vodka bottles. And as mentioned above, Macbeth goes into a fit of hysteria, but there is no ghost who appears.
The staging is bare, with only some bean bags and stools (perhaps more could have been done to make it look more like the crack den they were supposed to be in). Music is used sparingly, but very plausible news announcements mentioning different plot lines are good plot indicators, especially for much of the audience, who were from local schools.
The Breakfast Cat's production tries putting a new take on the well-worn Scottish play. It is an interesting update and works as a piece of theatre, but lack of variety in the cast and somewhat monotone performances dull its effectiveness, making it work better as an anti-drug and gang advert than as a piece of high art.