Food is a hardworking component of any television or film crew, serving as prop, symbol, characterization, and plot point for numerous scripts.
Jerry Seinfeld has a cupboard full of cereal, and pizza-delivery on speed-dial, and when Seinfeld based an entire episode around waiting in line at a Chinese restaurant, it spurred a minor revolution in American situation comedy.
The dinnertime ritual of the physicist boys in The Big Bang Theory often includes an interrogation by the adorably rigid Sheldon about the specs of the meal his roommate Leonard brings home; the routine is comfort food in itself.
“I’ll have what she’s having”, from When Harry Met Sally, has become a quote almost as recognizable as Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.
So when Shakespeare’s Macbeth and his wife are imagined by writer Peter Moffat as a power-couple behind a trendy restaurant in a Shakespeare Retold version of Macbeth, available on DVD at Whitehorse Public Library, certain expectations are raised from years of exposure to meals on reels. At the very least, you’re bound to vicariously enjoy some elegant menus.
Head chef Joe Macbeth (James McEvoy) has helped his Glasgow restaurant gain the coveted “three-stars” in the Michelin guide, but his wife Ella, restaurant hostess, convinces him that owner and celebrity chef Duncan Docherty (Vincent Regan) is failing to give him his due; a prophesy from three bin men (garbage collectors) that Joe will soon own the restaurant adds to his impatience. The ambitious chef turns to murder, and the madness and mayhem of Shakespeare’s tragic tale follow. But he still has to cook, right?
Partway through Shakespeare Retold: Macbeth, I was still waiting for the gleaming chrome surfaces of the kitchen to yield some beautifully presented plates of trendy cuisine, circa 2005, the year the series was screened. To my horror, it finally dawned on me that this Michelin man only deals in the visceral side of the culinary repertoire. It never gets more appetizing than the first scene, where the bin men chow down on sandwiches made with ingredients scavenged from the landfill. The fixings are described in detail but you won’t be writing them down for later.
Joe preaches respect for the pig’s head he’s carving into and waxes poetic about squid, Duncan relishes the last few bloody bites of a special meal, and Joe and Ella never seem to eat at all. Sharp knives and obsessive cleaning are prominent; edible matter is conquered. Joe’s crimes aren’t shown, but as the body count rises, he and Ella’s hallucinations turn hand-washing and meal preparation into graphic displays of gore. By the time pigs have flown and marked the end of Joe’s gastronomic reign, it’s a relief to be spared more samples from his menu.
Watch this version of Macbeth for its imagination and satire and because Shakespeare doesn’t let you down. Just don’t bring your appetite.
BBC’s Shakespeare Retold series also includes As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.