William Shakespeare
Bell Shakespeare
Fairfax Studio, Melbourne Arts Centre

The lovers: Hazem Shammas (Macbeth) and Jessica Tovey (Lady Macbeth) Credit: Brett Boardman
Witches' breath Credit: Brett Boardman
The aftermath: Jessica Tovey (Lady Macbeth) and Hazem Shammas (Macbeth) Credit: Brett Boardman
The reckoning: Jacob Warner (Macduff) and Hazem Shammas (Macbeth) Credit: Brett Boardman

Some time in the 1920s: witches hold a séance and fog descends, or it could be gas, as they conjure up soldiers who don WW1 greatcoats then fall back down onto the blasted heath.

It’s a riveting opening, but the idea fails to carry through to the rest of the production, made more confusing as the ten actors sit around the stage for most of the action, many of them assuming more than one role.

The show is likely to be judged, however, according to one’s view of the extraordinary performance of Hazem Shammas as Macbeth, the Scottish thane who kills King Duncan in order to seize the crown.

Violence is his aphrodisiac, and his poison too. Driven crazy by guilt, he scuttles about like an electrocuted crab, his voice and gestures generally at the wrong end of the hysteria red-zone as if trying to play the Thane of Cawdor, Richard III and mad King Lear all in one go. It was the most histrionic piece of acting I’ve seen in many a year.

Ironically, it is only when Shammas delivers the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech with elegant restraint that a feeling of intensity really comes across. Then alas he returns to gibbering lunacy.

On the other hand, the reaction of the sympathetic audience on the guest and press night suggested that many saw his interpretation as a triumphant tour de force. Take your pick.

For a model of how to play brittle instability, I’d look instead to Jessica Tovey’s Lady M, twitching with glee while hubby twitches with fear and desire, all girly, leg-kicking excitement until the strings break.

The reduced text ("Out damned spot, out" is out, unless I missed it) comes to life best when left to speak for itself, even in less celebrated scenes such as that between the impressive Jeremi Campese (Malcolm), Jacob Warner (Macduff) and Rebecca Attanasio (Ross).

Attanasio also has a second job as a witch (theatrical times being what they are), alongside Eleni Cassimatis and Isabel Burton. Julia Billington is a sympathetic Banquo, while Kyle Morrison and James Lugton are effective in supporting roles as Lennox and Duncan.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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