Australian theatre company, Bell Shakespeare, has publicly issued a blistering response to a theatre critic’s “cruel and unfair” review.

The Age critic Cameron Woodhead gave the theatre company’s current production of Macbeth a two star rating- and he singled out the lead actor, Hazem Shammas’ performance of Macbeth.

In his review, Woodhead claimed that Shammas “belongs in the Richard III ward of Monty Python’s Hospital for Over-Acting”.

He said that the Logie-winning actor’s portrayal of Macbeth was “so cartoonish” and “unhinged” and that he was “stalked by the inappropriate silhouette of the clown”.

The 500-word review mostly nitpicked at Shammas’ performance, commenting on how he should reign in his “vein-popping excess” and “trust in the words” of Shakespeare, as if he knew what Shakespeare would’ve wanted.

The review was published online on April 27 and a week later Bell Shakespeare launched their blistering response on social media.

The statement began with the theatre company explaining that they are open to criticism and understand that sometimes there will be “creative differences”.

“The Age’s theatre critic, Cameron Woodhead, didn’t like our current production of Macbeth (May 1 edition). That’s his prerogative; many critics have provided favourable reviews of this production and Macbeth means many things to many people. One of the joys of seeing Shakespeare’s works is to debate them afterwards.

“This time though, we must call out conduct which, in our view, was cruel and unfair,” they wrote in their statement posted on Facebook.

“Cameron’s targeting of the lead actor Hazem Shammas was, in our view, belittling and contemptuous,” they added, citing Woodhead’s harsh comments.

“Whilst Cameron may have issues with the production, we do not consider a response should ever be draped in language like this. In our view, no actor deserves to be dismissed so personally in a theatre review”.

They added that Shammas’ personal life and Palestinian background allowed him to resonate with the fact that “Macbeth is driven by something that finally breaks him,” as that story was his “dad’s story in terms of coming to this land and then pursuing his dreams at all costs, in terms of the costs to himself and breaking the hearts of the ones he left behind.”

“Actors don’t have a voice when critics write negative things about them. It has long been thus. However, the stage is their workplace. And they are entitled to a safe space at work just as much as anyone,” they wrote, defending Shammas.

They ended the statement saying that Woodhead had “crossed a line”.

Many fans have applauded the company for standing up for their star, while others justified Woodhead’s criticism.

“Cameron Woodhead gave one of my novels a bruisingly rude review a few years ago. I think he enjoys unleashing the poison pen occasionally. I have finally managed to laugh about it, but it took me years,” commented one person.

“What a great response and wonderful example of integrity from Bell Shakespeare!” commented another person

“Good on you for calling this out. We can be critical without being cruel, and given the tough times we’re in, we can all employ a little more respect and kindness,” wrote a third.

Image: Bell Shakespeare

This article first appeared on Over60.