Theatre review: Macbeth, Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne

Bell Shakespeare's production is minimalist and contemporary.

The Scottish play is famous for its supernatural elements. But Peter Evans’ stylish period production delivers a Macbeth that feels contemporary, but could be anywhere.

Since the recent retirement of founding Artistic Director John Bell, Bell Shakespeare has been displaying a new generation of talent and offering a fresh take on Shakespeare for a busy, multifaceted world. This year’s Macbeth gives us a production that shows us that the strength of strong man despots and their unravelling may be two faces of the same troubling character. 

Hazem Shammas plays Macbeth with a dark, uneasy comedy and an unlikely vulnerability. It brings to mind Hitler in his bunker, or Putin isolating himself with only the most agreeable of his generals. But in soliloquies like the ‘out, brief candle’ speech, Shammas achieves an existential richness that makes this an especially moving night at the theatre.

The setting takes place in a stylish green-carpeted square filled with period chairs. Characters wear tailored coats and carry rifles. But if the production can at times be like a weekend at Rupert Murdoch’s country house, it could also be any time, and any place, where a young couple’s naivety and ambition prompt them to commit unspeakable acts.

Lady Macbeth has always been emblematic of the doomed narrative drive of the play. Her confrontation with the ‘spot’ of blood that haunts her after the couple commit their murders attests to the way even individuals driven by personal gain are still subject to the imperatives of human kindness, and Jessica Tovey brings full self-possession and drama to the role.

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Schoolchildren are all familiar with Macbeth from the witches’ ‘double, bubble, toil and trouble’ speech and the lighting design by Damien Cooper highlights the supernatural element of the text with drama and flair. The porter scene, where a rustic is played with regality by James Lugton, sets the tone for a production characterised by reversals: of fortune, as well as heart. Julia Billington’s Banquo haunts in a world where ‘foul is fair’ and a group of families are just trying to ensure that justice, rather than ambition, is the order of the day.

Read: For ArtsHub‘s Sydney-based reviewer’s response to this production

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Presented by Bell Shakespeare

Arts Centre Melbourne
Director: Peter Evans
Associate Director Abbie-lee Lewis
Designer Anna Tregloan
Lighting Designer Damien Cooper
Composer & Sound Designer Max Lyandvert
Movement & Fight Director Nigel Poulton
Dramaturg James Evans

Cast: Hazem Shammas, Rebecca Attanassio, Julia Billington, Isabel Burton, Jeremi Campese, Eleni Cassimatis, James Lugton, Kyle Morrison, Jessica Tovey, Jacob Warner

Tickets: $35-$88
Macbeth will be performed until 14 May 2023.


Vanessa Francesca is a writer who has worked in independent theatre. Her work has appeared in The Age, The Australian and Meanjin