Big Mac

Sweet ECA, 17 – 23 August 2009

Reviewed for the Oxford Times

Updating Macbeth to modern-day Hollywood is a concept with promise. Celebrity is the new royalty, and defamation in the media is as good as death. Big Mac – developed and presented by pupils of two Oxford schools – delivers on very little of this promise.

The Macbeth figure in this adaptation is Jack Marlin (Charlie Littlewood), an up-and-coming actor overshadowed by his Duncan, Wellesian auteur Dan Cassel (Simon Devenport). Lady Macbeth is Jack’s unfulfilled girlfriend Kitty Parker (Maddy Maxwell), whose lust for fame and fortune is fed not by witches but by three clairvoyant casting agents (and this is where the believability of the update starts to corrode).

With the right execution, updating a Shakespeare play can refresh over-familiar material and demonstrate how its themes apply to modern life. But in this case the familiarity of the source simply makes Big Mac predictable.

Though at one point it seems the play might surprise us, by replacing Cassel’s anticipated murder with the shredding of his reputation by a media lynch mob, a scenario is soon engineered in which he can also be physically slain – because Cassel is Duncan, and Duncan must die.

The script is a litany of corny noir cliché, from “Don’t play dumb with me!” to “You’re making a big mistake!” Played for laughs, this could boldly satirise boilerplate Hollywood screenwriting, but played in earnest, it serves instead to venerate it.

Similarly, the staging – in which every prop is conspicuously labelled and a large pasteboard sign prompts applause – highlights the unreality both of theatre and of Hollywood, but also discourages the audience from engaging with the action.

Yes, the company are all still in their teens; yes, perhaps it is harsh to judge them by the same yardstick as professional productions at the Fringe. But their youth means they have all the time in the world to improve. Their concept is already sound; their execution needs work, that’s all.

Written by the company after William Shakespeare

Crew includes Atri Banerjee, Adam Smith and Jacob Trefethen (directors)

Cast includes Hana Clements (Marguerite), Simon Devenport (Dan Cassel), George Ferguson (Luke Duffy), Tom Gidman (Grain), Charlie Littlewood (Jack Marlin), Maddy Maxwell (Kitty Parker) and Lucy Prendergast (Vitelli)

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