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Food Poisoning Strikes ‘Macbeth’ Cast in Australia

Nowhere in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” does the script call for 3 characters to exit stage left clutching their stomachs. And so the play’s opening night at the Sydney Opera House – set for Wednesday – has been postponed while cast members recover from food poisoning.

Four members of the production, including the assistant director and the actors who play Macbeth, Macduff and Malcom, came down with severe cases of foodborne illness last week that left two hospitalized and the other two bedridden.

As a result, the first three previews of the show – scheduled for March 30 and 31 and April 1 – were cancelled. The April 4 opening show has been converted to a preview for family and friends and tickets are being reissued for Thursday, the new date of the premier. 

“The condition of the four affected Company members is being constantly monitored,” said Bell Shakespeare Gerneral Manager Christopher Tooher Tuesday, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “All are now showing significant signs of improvement.”

The New South Wales Food Authority is trying to determine the cause of the foodborne illness cases. 

“The [NSW] Food Authority is investigating this incident but there are no further details at this stage,” an agency representative said in an emailed statement to Food Safety News.  “We have received no other reports of foodborne illnesses from the Sydney Opera House precinct.”

This incident will likely come as no surprise to the theatrical community, which views “MacBeth” as a cursed play. Legend has it that just before the first production in the early 1600s, the actor who played Lady Macbeth died suddenly after coming down with a fever and Shakespeare himself ended up playing the part.  

To avoid “the curse of MacBeth,” company members traditionally do not speak its title, instead referring to it as “the Scottish play.” 

If a player does say the name MacBeth, superstition dictates that he or she leave the theater, spin around three times, spit, curse and then knock on the door to be let back in. 

After this latest calamity, perhaps a fourth spin will be added to that tradition. 

© Food Safety News