'Is this a baseball bat I see before me'

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The Independent Online
"Ring the alarum bell. Murder and treason!" Macbeth is a junkie.

In the latest production of the Shakespearean tragedy, being made by the BBC, the murderous Scottish general is a drug addict on a run-down inner-city council estate.

Macbeth is no stranger to adaptation - in the past he has been played in many guises, including a Fascist dictator - but this latest version will rekindle the debate over modernising the Bard's works.

For her backdrop, the film-maker Penny Woolcock has returned to the Ladywood estate in Birmingham where she filmed an award-winning documentary, Shakespeare on the Estate, following director Michael Bogdanov as he rehearsed local residents for open air performances of Shakespeare snippets. This time, however, professional actors have stolen the leading roles, demoting the residents to mere spear carriers, page boys and other walk- on roles.

Duncan, the noble King of Scotland in the play, takes on a considerably more corrupt reincarnation as an evil crime baron who is immersed in a world of drugs and violence and who exercises a stranglehold over the estate. Woolcock herself will play the role.

Macbeth is a Temazepam- addicted estate lout who turns against him on the urgings of his wife.

Woolcock has cast aside the swords favoured by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has replaced them with baseball bats, which are the weapons of the Nineties.

It is unclear whether: "Is this a baseball bat which I see before me?" will be slipped into the script.

The three witches in the play have been transformed into street urchins. Woolcock said that the scenario was frighteningly similar to real life on the estate.

"Nobody has a job. Since it is impossible for anyone to survive on the dole, money is made illegally," she said.

"The local economy, crime and punishment are all controlled by the hard guys.

"It all reminded me of Macbeth, where feudal warlords slug it out for territory and power."

Filming for the 90-minute television production is due to start next month on the streets of the estate, which are situated only 20 miles from the birthplace of Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The finished article will be aired as part of BBC2's Performance series this autumn.