Proteus presents a re-imagination of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, setting the Scotland based play in London during the 1987 stock market crash. Directed by Mary Swan, the corporate thriller explores a disastrous era in Britain, exploring themes of race, class and betrayal in the trading room floor, which is brought to life by an all BAME cast. The play is not without flaws, but it does highlight the consequence of ruthless ambition under Thatcher’s government from a political and historical standpoint.
Without a doubt, the play takes us back to the eighties which is also achieved by Katherine Heath’s set design, as well as the characters neon outfits, shiny suits and thick shoulder pads. This is further aided by eighty’s classics from Bronski Beat to Joy Division.
Although an ambitious choice, one of the challenges of the play was keeping up with the Shakespearean language in a corporate setting. It didn’t seem to blend together cohesively and was quite confusing in some of the scenes. The corporate context only seemed to be provided by the visual backdrop. What could have done some justice was to incorporate occupational jargon in certain parts of the characters dialogue to add clarity and to bring forth verbally the effects of the stock market crash.
The second scene gets straight to the point with the ‘greed is good’ concept when the three witches played by Black British actress Alexandra Afryea, Jessica Andrade and Umar Butt determine Macbeth’s (Riz Meedin) fate. Opening immediately with drug use, it sets a tone that worse is to come and in later scenes we see Macbeth snorting cocaine off a glass table.
The highlight was the gruesome dinner scene with semi-naked Umar Butt playing Banquo’s ghost. His delivery brought a disturbing element which added a psychological thriller tone to the play. Despite Lady Macbeth, and the Macduff’s being present, Macbeth is the only character who can see the ghost which delves into his mental decline with a touch of blood and gore.
Macbeth doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics one of them being postpartum depression. Alexandra Afryea embodies Lady Macbeth’s bereavement superbly, with presence and projection. The iconic sleepwalking scene (with the actress wearing a headscarf and nightie), explores how much her loss as well as the murders have taken its toll psychologically and the climax unfolds from there.
With only five actors and fifteen characters, the new adaption was perplexing in some scenes. It was difficult to keep up with what actor was playing what role, which sometimes removed the focus from the actual narrative. Fortunately, this was compensated by the characters signature costumes and accents, which was easier to grasp onto in the second act.
All in all, Proteus explored significant themes that do need to be addressed in literature and society. At times the recreation of the corporate world was overshadowed by the play being quite disjointed in some parts as well as the Shakespearean language barrier. A few edits for clarity would have been beneficial in Macbeth’s delivery of the primary narrative. On a positive note, the production was ambitious in the way it blended a classical play with a contemporary setting, while capturing the psychological effects of greed, death and murder.