ShakeSoc’s "Macbeth" Makes a Bloody Splash in Kambri

Photo provided by ANU Shakespeare Society

Before we start this review we want to preface by saying we are not professional critics, so please don’t try and track us down. We are merely loyal ANU theatre enthusiasts who go to more shows than are healthy. Because of this addiction we have decided to review all of the student shows put on this year — from NUTS, to ShakeSoc, to MTC and college productions. We can’t wait to highlight the amazing talents of all the people involved in these shows in the reviews.

Macbeth is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most famous works, centring on deceit, ambition, power with a fair share of blood and gore. Shakespeare Society’s (ShakeSoc) production of the Scottish play — although it appeared the cast were confused about geography with their accents — proved an exciting choice to a packed opening night crowd. 

What this play certainly was not lacking was ambition. ShakeSoc’s decision to stage Macbeth without re-contextualisation in roughly a seven week period proved a brave choice for the society and first-time director Natasha Ludlow. The choice of Macbeth was a production guaranteed to fill seats due to its popularity…and the trauma of year nine English. However, as the first of the 2024 season, this production failed to make as much of a bloody splash as it may have hoped. Where credit should be attributed, is to the tenacity of the directorial and production team in organising this show so early in the year.

While with humorous intentions the stabbing reference made during the introduction about looking to your left and right wondering who may have a knife left the audience uncomfortable. The joke felt in poor taste before the production had even started.

Matthew Wooding as the titular lead (pictured above) provided a stand-out performance, not only furthering the plot but providing a nuanced portrayal of the complex and often fraught Macbeth. Where a stellar performance by Wooding captivated the audience, unfortunately for Lara her Lady Macbeth was outshined by her counterpart. Lady Macbeth is well-known as one of Shakespeare’s most difficult female roles, and with the added pressure of a seven-week rehearsal schedule, Lara’s portrayal at times felt one-dimensional. Ultimately the pair’s chemistry aided both their depictions, with the scenes focused on the couple providing a sense of intimacy to the violent background of the play.

A personal standout in the cast came from Ash Telford as Banquo, whose ghost at the end of Act One left the audience gasping. Despite blood drooling from the mouth, Telford remained in character, providing a chilling portrayal haunting Macbeth and the audience long after the scene had concluded. A surprising standout scene came in the Second Act. Marcelle Brosnan’s Lady MacDuff alongside Marlon Cayley as her son showcased a different side of Shakespeare’s work, with a touching vulnerability accompanied by a maternal passion that provided a much needed refreshment to the latter half.

A hallmark of Macbeth remains the trio of witches. The choice to double-cast this production, whilst not unusual for ShakeSoc, proved ill-advised, with the decision to double-cast Lady Macbeth with a lead witch serving to confuse rather than enchant. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far, and despite both of us having read, studied, and watched the play prior, we found ourselves having to check the script at the conclusion of Act One. Perhaps a costume change could have justified the directorial choice, as where a witch remained crowned and in an evening gown, the production failed to convey a change in character. 

Despite costume changes needed to underpin character shifts, the costume team consisting of Archie Church, Isabel Moller, Alana Flesser and Georgia, provided a clean look to the large ensemble. Colour blocking different pairs and groups dependent on the character was a nice touch, showing the team’s attention to detail. 

Technically, Ella Ragless’ sound design created an occasional atmospheric ambiance to slower scenes, with the cast’s voices easily projected across the small theatre. The simple yet effective lighting done by Charlotte Harris and assistant Elinor Hudson showed a contrast between battle scenes, dinner parties and emotional soliloquies, adding excitement to the lack-lustre black set. 

Walking into the theatre, the only set on the stage was a few pieces of dirty cloth hung limply from the black curtains and unfortunately the stage design rarely became more advanced than that. Whilst a simple set can be effective, watching the cast walk between sides of the stage between scenes and the door to backstage occasionally visible to the audience was an unwanted distraction. The one attempt at a major set piece in the feast scene regrettably did not go to plan on opening night, with stage crew having issues with the tables. 

Overall, despite Macbeth being one of Shakespeare’s shorter works, this production proved too lengthy. Potentially the inclusion of more action and gore in the latter half may have re-captivated audience attention. Ultimately, ShakeSoc’s production could have made a bigger and bloodier splash into the 2024 season with the overall disjointed and rapidly put together production falling short of our high expectations.

All in all, the play set the tone for a dramatic season for ShakeSoc. We look forward to their next show Then I’ll Be Brief in Week 10.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.