Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Shakespeare for Breakfast is a well-established Fringe tradition – one much in keeping with the more informal approach to art classics. What makes this year’s production particularly special is that the irreverent path is being trodden by one of the most gifted companies we are likely to see at this or any other Edinburgh Fringe.
Macbeth: The High School Years sees the familiar story of feudal feuding transported into a brash and brattish teeny-bopper world where the motto is ‘Work Bard, Play Bard’. The adaptation is clever and sympathetic. Mac is a frustrated guitarist tempted into a power grab by his scheming, cheerleading mega-bitch sweetheart Beth. The witches are Goths (what else?) the perennial outsiders sowing discord among the happy shiny people.
A lot of work has gone into this script and it shows. Shakespeare for Breakfast is a concept founded on making the cannon accessible to an early morning audience. Job done. There is the usual lyrical brew of bard-based punning and pop culture references, but this year there is something else that’s pretty striking. An armory of Shakespearian allegory is deployed against the clichés of imported corporate teen dramas which fetishize mean spirits, unkind hearts and worthless coronets. This production brings together the two genres and with the success of 10 Things I Hate About You, proves that you don’t need leather patches to demonstrate the transcendental power of Shakespeare.
As mentioned, this is one of the best young casts you are going to see this Fringe. They have a great deal of energy but it is all directed into the pace and delivery. The little touches make each character sparkle – the cocky gym teacher’s run, the kowtowing of Macbeth each time he returns his lady’s dropped pompom. This is an all-singing, all dancing cast – although the ‘stand-up’ caretaker (replacing the castle doorkeeper) had better sit down before anyone thinks the company have been zealously over-authentic in retaining this unfunny drag on the narrative (pretending it’s deliberate doesn’t make it any better).
There is hardly any set, it would only get in the way. The show bursts out into the aisles – theatre in the all-around. There is a lot of audience participation which this early in the day has the potential to backfire – why do the ushers never ask to see my hangover’s ticket? The inclusive coffee (or tea) and croissant are a definite bonus. Luckily this audience, with the odd exception, are bright, breezy and game for a laugh.
If there is a problem with the show you may very well come to think that it’s the audience. I couldn’t possibly comment, other than to say that my spider sense tingles whenever this many holidaying schoolteachers gather in a room. They laugh knowingly because they get all the in-jokes but turn in UNISON to glance askance at the lone guffaw emanating from the obviously hungover bloke when the queen of the Goth’s reveals her name is Tamora – a pearl tossed to swine. English Teachers, who make their living mauling Shakespeare in the name of accessibility, just aren’t worth a script this good but then neither is the morning. Next year please can we have Shakespeare for Supper?