Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
Directed by Peter Evans. Associate Director Abbie-Lee Lewis. Set and Costume Designer Anna Tregloan. Lighting Designer Damien Cooper. Composer and Sound Designer Max Lyandvert. Movement, Fight and Intimacy director Nigel Poulton. Dramaturg James Evans. Cast: Hazem Shammas, Rebecca Attanasio, Julia Billington, Isabel Burton, Jeremi Campesi, Eleni Cassimatis, James Lugton, Kyle Morrison, Jessica Tovey, Jacob Warner. Bell Shakespeare Company. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. April 14 – 22 2023. Bookings: (02) 6275 2700
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Whether you have never seen a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth or you have seen countless interpretations of what is often described as a supernatural thriller, Peter Evans’s staging of the Scottish play is must see theatre. What Evans and his company have achieved is a seamless production of gripping, intriguing theatre, searing insight and incandescent imagination. Bell Shakespeare’s production triumphantly exposes the complexities of human nature, the tragedy of corrosive ambition and the deadly consequences of tyrannical rule. Although written in 1606 as an overt piece of political opportunism during the early years of the rule of James 1st of England and James Vl of Scotland , Macbeth presents an inescapable admonition for all time.
|Jessica Tovey and Hazem Shammas in Bell Shakespeare's Macbeth|
Evans’s vision is immediately liberating. A circle of period chairs sets the scene for a séance as Max Lyandvert’s composition and sound design introduces a Gregorian chant. An atmosphere of ritual and the occult summon the spirit of Macbeth. Chairs and bodies are flung like poltergeists to the floor as the actors bring forth the opening battleground scene. The audience is transported into a world of fable, charms and supernatural portents. Evans and his actors weave a superbly told story of ambition, murder and tyranny where fair is foul and foul is fair hovering through the fog and filthy air. The production flows with the inevitability of prophetic foreboding; actors largely remain on stage moving in and out of roles like spirits in the night. Audiences are caught in the flowing tide of events as horror heaps on horror.
At the very heart of this tragic fall of a noble hero are Macbeth (Hazem Shammas) and Lady Macbeth (Jessica Tovey). Shammas and Tovey are magnificent. Youthful and ambitious they are sexually charged with an erotic lust for power and prestige. Shammas gives an extraordinary performance as he transforms from noble hero to tortured guilt-ridden psychopath. The three witches, played with beguiling ambiguity by young actors Eleni Cassamatis, Isabel Burton and Rebecca Attanasio are only secret black and midnight hags in Macbeth’s deluded imagination.
|Jacob Warner as Macduff. Hazem Shammas as Macbeth|
Tovey’s Lady Macbeth plays the injudicious harbinger of evil, blind to consequence in her devotion to her lord. Her early exhortations to the spirits that tend on mortal thoughts are skilfully played with a matter of fact air of purpose that lends credibility to her eventual descent into madness. There is pathos in her sleepwalking scene that echoes with the pain of guilt, lost innocence and abandonment. Together, under Evans’s direction, Shammas and Tovey have elevated Shakespeare’s shortest and often underestimated tragedy to a complex and illuminating analysis of the human psyche.
|Eleni Cassamatis, Isabel Burton and Rebecca Attanasio as The Three Witches|
Although Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are the principal players in Shakespeare’s warning of dire consequence, there are excellent performances from Evans’s talented ensemble, most of whom are cast in multiple roles. James Lugton plays a comical clown as the porter, lending the production a moment of light relief amidst the horror. Julia Billington’s Banquo creates a plausible foil to Shazzam’s tyrant and Jacob Warner’s Macduff is a powerful study in guilt and grief at the news of his family’s murder.
Bell Shakespeare’s production invites an audience “on your imagination’s work.” It is imagination that confounds Macbeth. It is imagination that inspires Anna Tregloan’s setting for a journey into the supernatural world of spirits and Lyandvert’s evocative sound design. It is imagination that will empower an audience to understand that trench coats represent armour as well as mounds of earth into which the witches vanish. It is imagination that drives the intensity of Evans’s production and holds an audience spellbound as the vile consequences of corrupt ambition forge their inevitable path to a tragic doom. Bell Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a production for our time and prophetically a tragedy, I fear, for all time.
Photos by Brett Boardman