Picture this: Bridget Jones swinging from a suspended cauldron dressed as a witch and reciting lines of a cursed play. You could be forgiven for thinking I’m describing a bizarre Meet the Parents and Terry Pratchett mash-up, but no: this is the story of Ivy Meadows, the protagonist of Macdeath. The interval of opening night is heralded and before the intermission is out someone’s screaming murder. A murder in a production of Macbeth–uncanny, isn’t it? If you thought this business of referring to that play as Scottish was silly actor paranoia, this story will teach you to think again.
Brown uses Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a springboard for a murder mystery in her playfully titled Macdeath. Ivy, whose real name isn’t really Ivy at all, trips successfully into her audition for a role in a circus production of Macbeth, with tight-ropes and tight-tops galore. This book will have you guessing whodunit until the final pages, no matter how many carrots you’ve eaten to see in the dark.
Unlike Simon (Mullin’s Hamlet) Macdeath isn’t, strictly speaking, an adaptation of Macbeth, although it does feature one within its pages. Nor is it an appropriation, though there is clearly an open dialogue between the plot of the play being performed (Macbeth) and the plot of the tale which surrounds it. Ironically, Shakespeare’s play is rendered comic in contrast to the tragic scenes plaguing its cast. Dark and light in equal measure, this mystery is peppered with comic instances ranging from the unfortunate costume malfunctions of our uncoordinated protagonist (think Bridget Jones and her costume moment at the tarts and vicars party…) to a certain, unforgettable ‘omnipresent carrot’ (yes, I’m quoting).
You could be forgiven for a wry grin, but murder mysteries don’t often raise a smile (nor for that matter is Macbeth renowned for being a funny play). Nonetheless, Brown challenges that as she plays with deeply human reactions to grief and horror, where laughter and tears are natural counterparts.
Like the prophecies of the witches, the production of Macbeth in Macdeath dominates the narrative and all must play their part no matter how many disasters and murders befall them. Brown cleverly interweaves the fictional murders of Macbeth with the very real murderous scenes of Macdeath. Blood will have blood, but the stage is only the beginning. The action is split between the performed personalities of the actors and the backstage appearances of the cast. These contrasting relationships are held together with a healthy dose of flirtation and a splattering of make-up.
If you’re looking for a simple adaptation of Macbeth, then Macdeath probably isn’t for you. However, if you’ve never seen Macbeth in the light of a murder mystery tale, why not check out Macdeath. It sheds light on Macbeth in new and exciting ways, and familiarity with the play isn’t a necessity. Funneled through the chaotic and comical life of Ivy, actress-cum-detective, when tragedy strikes, Brown challenges us to look at motives for murder anew in Macbeth and Macdeath alike. Follow Ivy’s tale to finally uncover whose lines stink of a murder most foul.
Acrobatic witches, carrot wielding directors, private detectives, and several packets of Raman noodles–it’s Macbeth but not quite as you know it.
Cindy Brown, Macdeath (San Bernardino: Henery Press, 2015)
I’m always keen to read and review Shakespeare adapted novels, short stories, plays, or poems, do feel free to get in touch either by e-mail at email@example.com or via Twitter where you can find me @srawaters