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Trash Macbeth #BriFri

By Joyweesemoll @joyweesemoll

British Isles Friday logoWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!

Last week, I described my Shakespeare Festival experience with the unfamiliar play of King John. Sim’s fantasy walk in London took us to the Food Hall in Harrods (where I remember buying the best slice of cake….) and shopping for fashion on Sloane Street. Heather reviewed the fascinating biography of Sophia Duleep Singh — Indian princess and London suffragette. Jackie shared more photos of her 1991 trip to Ireland, including a visit to Galway, plus hotel information and more sheep! Tina reviewed Aftermath, book #12 in the Inspector Banks series by Peter Robinson. Jean started a readalong of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Becky reviewed the film Young Victoria and the book Murder in the Museum.

Shakespeare — two weeks in a row! This week, I saw another of the plays that was featured in Shake 38, a part of the Shakespeare Festival devoted to performing some version of all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays. Trash Macbeth is a production of the Equally Represented Arts (ERA) theater company, mashing up Macbeth with the 1950s.

Trash Macbeth
Produced by the ERA theater company at The Chapel in St. Louis

The costumes, stage-setting, and script blended the medieval and the 1950s. A long banquet table seated about half the audience while black walking umbrellas stood in for swords with fight scenes staged around and among the viewers. Ads of the 1950s were performed as a kind of Greek chorus, extolling the virtues of products like Dial soap (with hexachlorophene!). The biggest question our group of attendees had after the play was “Really? Lysol douches?” Yep. Really. But, it turns out there was a secret message underlying those ads.

The characters are all the familiar players in Macbeth, with one addition — Emily Post, the mid-20th century’s expert on etiquette. She directed the proper preparation for banquets, explained the way to welcome guests, and even delivered an effective and sympathetic method of honoring the grieving process.

Much of Trash Macbeth is played for laughs. The witch scenes, especially, are witty riffs on the popular culture of the 1950s referencing commercials, cooking shows, and game shows.

The actors who played Banquo and Macduff were both black, which had no particular meaning for most of the play. In the moment, I didn’t grant any significance to Banquo’s death when he was killed in a futile attempt by King Macbeth to further his own cause. At this point, the audience was still experiencing a lot of humor and I was curious about how the ghost of Banquo would be portrayed — he wandered, in silent accusation, around the theater with a lacy black shawl draped over his head and shoulders.

By the time we reached the killing of Macduff’s family, though, things had turned much more serious. The grief of a black person over the deaths of loved ones is a scene far too real and familiar in our community and our country. Retroactively, I was reminded that what we witnessed earlier in the performance, the killing of Banquo, was the death of a young black man at the hands of the state.

If you live in St. Louis, the final two performances are tonight and tomorrow. This play will appeal most to those who have some familiarity to Macbeth. If you want a refresher, I wrote a summary of Macbeth before seeing a (somewhat) more conventional production in 2011. By the way, that post on Macbeth is far and away the most popular I’ve ever written — it gets tons of hits during the school year when students are looking for a bit of help to understand Shakespeare’s Scottish play. Tickets to Trash Macbeth are available at ERA’s website.

What are your experiences with Macbeth and pieces inspired by Macbeth?

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