Violence, blood, an examination of the point at which a human being tips over into becoming a killing machine — in many ways, shooting a version of Macbeth with a cast of lifers at Maghaberry Gaol was directorial genius.
As the man himself says to the original Lady Macbeth after a murder or two: “I am in blood stepped in so far/That should I wade no more/Returning were no easier than go o'er.”
The eleventh century Scottish bloodbath translated fairly well via a pretty colloquial script and documentary-style camerawork, focusing on snarling Alsatians, CCTV cameras and the barbed wire that symbolises this tough world of Burnan Prison.
As Educational Shakespeare Company director Tom Magill says, names have been changed — but not to protect the innocent. “Macbeth becomes Mickey B, Banquo is Banknote and Lady Macbeth becomes Ladyboy.”
Some of the acting was in fact hotter than the rehashed plot. It's as well to remember with Shakespeare that there are no longueurs, no gaps in plot, while here the action between stabbings was flabby as Mickey B's four pack. Yet his acting was oddly moving, a large guy with feelings he had to suppress, while Ladyboy gripped and dominated the screen like a dominatrix with the smile of Joan Crawford. Brilliant, good-looking Malcolm also liked the camera, while Duncan had a strange dignity.
Macbeth unquestionably explores the darkest places in the human psyche. But when you change the chase for kingship to bets on who will rule C wing, you can miss a trick.
Macbeth became “top dog of the f****ing prison”, Banknote or Banquo got a better ending, and the Alsatians no doubt barked on.