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Sydney Theatre Reviews | Macbeth


By William Shakespeare

Director Peter Evans

Bell Shakespeare

Sydney Opera House Playhouse until April 2

Photos Brett Boardman

Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP

Sydney Theatre Reviews

The last time I saw the Scottish play was in the 1970s when I worked in production at the Old Tote Theatre Company. We staged it at the Sydney Opera House Opera Theatre. In the leads were Ron Haddrick and Dinah Shearing who led a talented cast that consisted of Colin Croft, Ralph Cotterill, Danny Adcock and Michael Caton and many others. It was directed by Robin Lovejoy.

Three witches give a brave general the prophecy that he will become king. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the Scottish throne for himself. He is wracked with guilt and paranoia. Forced to commit more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion, he becomes a tyrant. The bloodbath and civil war swiftly take Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into the realms of madness and death.

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This latest Bell Shakespeare version is set shortly after the end of World War I, which allows designer Anna Tregloan to create some elegant ladies costumes.

The touring production set consists of high, green curtains and dinner chairs, so the focuses are on the performance and the dialogue.

The cast, like many Bell Shakespeare offerings, contains diversity. One cast member reminds me of Samuel Jackson and other looks like a very young Peter Lorre.

The support cast remains relatively subdued, which allows for the two leads to excel, and that they do.

The first act perfectly sets up the high drama of the second, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth experience the torment that accompanies the deep, inescapable guilt of their actions.

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Hazem Shammas, in the second act, plays big, really big. His Macbeth screams emotional extremes and his physical acting is so impressive that it often crosses over into slapstick. Also, his intonations and inflexions frequently sound Middle Eastern-Australian, maaate. It’s a powerful role that Shammas has taken on wholeheartedly. He certainly can’t be accused of strolling through it.

The highlight of this production, for me, is Jessica Tovey as Lady Macbeth. For that role, the actor must be capable of exuding and projecting such power when she unleashes that audience members are blown back in their seats. Medea is one of a handful of roles that might equal or surpass that intensity. With Tovey, it all comes from within. The feelings are initially suppressed and build and build internally until they explode in a tsunami of emotion. Director Peter Evans heightens the effect by placing Tovey down-centre stage for a key moment so that the audience feels the full force.

If you’re not superstitious and are not worried about the Macbeth curse (if you’re unfamiliar with it, Google it) then this latest Bell Shakespeare production is worth catching if for no other reason than to see Tovey and Shammas.

Ron Lee theatre critic


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