‘Macbeth is truly timeless’ – an interview with Anna Burgess

2 years ago
Til Knowles

Grab your picnic blankets, make a cheese platter and a glass of eye of newt (er, or wine) and attend Macbeth in the Royal Botanic Gardens this summer. The Scottish Play is this year’s Shakespeare Under the Stars – the annual production of one of the Bard’s works, performed outside by the Australian Shakespeare Company.

We caught up with actor Anna Burgess, who plays Malcolm in the production. who you might know from her roles in Bad Jews or Pramkicker (though more likely her role in the Olivia Newton John biopic) to talk about the enduring power of Shakespeare and the joy of seeing it performed under the stars.

What was your first experience with Shakespeare?

My first experience with Shakespeare was with the Australian Shakespeare Company watching a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream about twenty years ago. My parents have always been so incredible at taking my sisters and I to see theatre and, that night, I found my version of heaven.

I’ll never forget the magic of it all. It’s not lost on me how truly special it is that now as an actor I am able to create with this company. I’m very grateful.

Shakespeare’s work is often described as capturing elements of the human experience, which is in part why people continue to stage them. What (if anything) do you find relatable about Macbeth as a play?

Macbeth is truly timeless.

At this point in my life’s journey what intrigues me is Macbeth’s character arc, so gently and vivaciously interpreted by our leading man, Nathaniel Dean.

Macbeth is an honourable yet flawed human who chooses the wrong door to walk through and plays out the consequences of his actions till his death. We as an audience cannot condone his actions, but when they are interpreted with an honest rawness and imperfection we find ourselves truly empathetic to his cause. We are all so beautifully imperfect as humans and that is our greatest strength and Achilles heel.

What’s your favourite Shakespearean play and why?

Macbeth was and still is my favourite Shakespearean play.

I fell in love with those witches in high school. I played a witch in a production by Opera Australia, rolling around on a revolving set while the greats of the opera world interpreted Shakespeare. I have fallen head over heels for the play all over again working on this production with Glenn Elston. The text and characters are a gift passed down to us all and it feels wonderful to bring Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy to the gardens for ASC’s 30th year production.

If you could play any Shakespearean character, who would it be and why?

I would love to play Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lady Macbeth when the time is right. I believe a role comes to you when all the elements align. 

You were in the previous Australian Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as an actor, what differences do you find preparing for roles in comedy and tragedy?

I find the process for each character and production varies vastly, whether it be a comedy or a tragedy. I never see my characters as comical. The comedy comes from their tragedy, vulnerability and often their darkness. It is the cracks, the intricate details and oddities that intrigue me with character development. It is there that the magic lies and the dance truly begins when you meet your fellow actors in the rehearsal space.

How does it feel performing in such an open outdoor setting?

Working in the Royal Botanic Gardens is like working in the round with an ever changing oil painting.

It is one of the greatest gifts and challenges for an actor. I find a vocal warm up that we do together as a cast is essential as is my 6pm ritual of a 20 minute power walk through the gardens to physically centre.

The gardens can really take you out of your body if you haven’t grounded before the show, but once you have, it’s a dance between you, the audience, and Mother Nature.

What’s the most exciting part of working with the Australian Shakespeare Company?

The most exciting thing about working with the Australian Shakespeare Company is the joyous cast and crew they assemble. It really is the people and stories you create along the way in your lifetime that is the greatest pleasure of all.

Also getting to recreate Shakespeare’s works under a sky of stars, rain, rainbows and peachy sunsets is truly a teenage girl’s dream realised.

You’re also a mentor and acting coach. What advice do you have for any young people looking to start acting?

Go for it. Soak everything up. There is no wrong or right. Create because it’s what you must do. Laugh. Laugh at yourself. Let others laugh at you and with you. Take what you do seriously and respect yourself and your work, but not so seriously that you can’t let yourself stumble. Read. Listen. Collaborate. The small wins are big wins. Do whatever fills your cup. There’s enough of the pie of success and happiness for everyone, so lift others. Create some magic. I dare you.


Macbeth is on at the Royal Botanic Gardens at 8:30pm until 23 February 2019. Tickets, including a VIP package featuring the best seats in the house and a glass of wine, are available from the Australian Shakespeare Company website.

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