STC Macbeth: First Reviews, Production Photos; The Hobbit: BOFA at SDCC

It’s been a crazy-busy past 24 hours for Hugo Weaving fans with the official opening night of Sydney Theatre Company’s Macbeth (with most high-profile critics in attendance) followed by the San Diego Comic Con panel on The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (which featured the debut of the film’s trailer and a surprising number of cast members alongside Peter Jackson.) The trailer isn’t yet live online as I write this, but I’ll add it and any SDCC panel video that becomes available if and when this happens.  In past years, Warner Bros has posted the full panel session video after the fact minus any exclusive content (ie film shown)… the event wasn’t live-streamed, but TheOneRing.net was on hand with a fairly exhaustive “rolling updates” page as the event unfolded, including descriptions of the new teaser and cast interview highlights.

First, though…

Macbeth Opens At STC

Though STC’s Facebook hasn’t yet featured any production photos (they surely will soon), Elissa Blake and other journalists on hand at Friday’s premiere were given a selection of Brett Boardman’s fantastic, expressive shots for use in reviews. I’ll post a selection below… apologies for the differences in size; these came from several different reviews. Particular thanks to Blake for sharing high-res versions of some of the best pics along with a reprint of her Hugo Weaving interview for the Sydney Morning Herald.

All photos are by Brett Boardman. Note: WordPress readers can see full-sized versions by right-clicking, then clicking on “open in a new tab”.


L to R: Kate Box (as Macduff), Paula Arundel (as Banquo), Robert Menzies (as Rosse), John Gaden (seated, as Duncan), Eden Falk (as Malcolm)


Melita Jurisic as Lady Macbeth, Hugo Weaving as Macbeth


Falk and Arundel (probably playing Fleance and Banquo) illustrate the use of auditorium space in this production

Again, I’ll add any additional photos that become available, including better versions of those already shared if any turn up.

While there were reports of “mixed reviews” amid the early responses to the play on Twitter and other social media sites, the reviews and audience tweets have actually been very positive on the whole apart from one snippy, somewhat clueless review posted to Limelight by a critic who seems to have made up her mind before seeing the play and dispenses a lot of elitist bile against Hugo, John Gielgud (regarded by most serious scholars as one of the best Shakespearean actors of the 20th century– though his acting style and enunciation is completely different from Hugo’s in any sane person’s assessment) and Kip Williams (whose rationale for this staging has been eloquently detailed in many interviews this person seems not to have bothered with.) There has been a lot of complaint about STC’s uncomfortable stage-area seating which is unique to this production, though most reviews suggest the minor discomfort more than worth tolerating for the rewards of this production. I’ll include some quotes below, but the full reviews are very much worth reading in their entirety, so links are included.

Barry Hearst, Sydney Outsider: “After watching the STC’s new production of Macbeth I struggled to sleep last night. .. the main problem was I couldn’t stop thinking about the bold, brilliant, and occasionally baffling interpretation of Shakespeare’s dark tragedy….

The moment the audience filed into the Sydney Theatre we knew we were in for something different. The seats were on the stage, staring into the cavernous auditorium. The tiered seating would have been tight for the tall or the tubby. Any complaints were muted…

I will admit that I was a little confused by the play occasionally. With costumes light on – a crown for a king, an Elizabethan ruff for Malcolm, and not much else – it could be hard to follow characters through the acts…

At the same time it allowed for suprisingly moving moments, like seeing veteran actor John Gaden convincingly play a young son to Paula Arundell’s Lady Macduff, though she must be more than three decades his junior. That Gaden played King Duncan and Arundell played Banquo a few scenes earlier didn’t undermine this poignant moment…

These characters whirled around Macbeth as he betrayed loyalties in his pursuit for power, then saw his world fall around him. Hugo Weaving was compelling in the lead role and it was strange to find yourself sympathising with the cruel dictator he became…

Maybe it’s because there was a sense that we weren’t just watching characters. Through the set design, casting choices, and costumes we were always conscious that these were actors playing out a script. This could have created a distancing effect but instead the audience was more engaged, as they created Macbeth’s world in their minds’ eye.

As Weaving yelled, with a little more sound and fury than was necessary, that life “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” there was a sense it wasn’t just Macbeth the character howling with rage but the actor stuck in that role, and in a way he was yelling for all of us…

In this play, placed on the stage as the audience was, we are reminded how we are all actors in our own lives. We get caught up in plays we don’t expect to, and struggle with other characters whose motives we can only guess at. Macbeth doesn’t show a way to navigate that reality, but there is a something admirable in the way he continues to battle against his doomed fate…

I think you have to see Kip Williams’ Macbeth twice. I watched it the first time and knew it was a great play and that I had not mastered it. I’ll watch it a second time because I need to. And a third time because I will want to.”   (My favorite review thusfar)


Hugo Weaving and Melita Juristic  Photo: Brett Boardman

Joy, The Buzz From Sydney: “Much has been made in the lead up to Macbeth of Kip Williams’ staging: the audience is seated in banks of bleacher-like seats on the edge of the stage while the permanent seating acts as an extended stage, where some of the play’s action takes place. This arrangement came out of a conversation between Williams and Andrew Upton about what it would be like to stage a play where the audience sat on the stage and the performance played out before an empty theatre. While this role reversal was used to good effect a handful of times, I wasn’t completely sold on it as a device. The Scottish Play features one of theatre’s most enigmatic characters and Hugo Weaving and the cast are exceptional actors, the additional subversion of the space seemed unnecessary to me. Also I didn’t find the seats set up for this performance terribly comfortable. The empty (and I imagined bigger and more comfortable seats) across the stage mocked me as I gazed at them wistfully…

Fortunately flawless performances from the cast mostly made up for any discomfort, and made for great theatre. Weaving brings a virtuoso physicality to his role that kept the audience enthralled. Melita Jurisic played multiple roles, including Lady Macbeth and she was equally compelling. The Sydney Theatre Company welcomed back John Gaden (Duncan, Old Man, Young Macduff, Apparition) and Robert Menzies (Witch, Rosse, Porter ), who are both a pleasure to watch in their respective roles. The entire cast beguiled us with intense and convincing performances which will no doubt keep the house packed for the duration. Lighting and effects were also excellent, the strobe lighting greatly enhanced Macbeth’s troubled descent.”


Fan photo of the stage area  Photo: Dame Nelly (nellevision) via Twitter/Instagram

Ben Neutze, The Daily Review: “As you enter to find your seat onstage at the beginning of Sydney Theatre Company’s Macbeth, and stare out into the vast emptiness, the ghosts of the empty 900-seat auditorium before you stare right back. Director Kip Williams and STC artistic director Andrew Upton, who together came up with the concept of staging a production in this way, were right: it’s a truly haunting image. Especially when you consider that, for many in the audience, those ghosts are, in fact, themselves. We are the past audiences of that theatre…

Drawing in Hugo Weaving in the title role, as well as a cast of veterans and relative newcomers, STC’s production sold out months in advance, due to its almighty promise. Thankfully, it delivers…

As soon as Macbeth (Hugo Weaving) reaches the “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” soliloquy, it becomes immediately clear that something more is coming. Lady Macbeth (Melita Jurisic) holds the shining dagger high at the back of the stage, while Weaving, standing mere metres from the audience, stares at his vision and delivers an intimate, haunting performance. This is the moment which Macbeth’s mental state starts to crack and he enters the nightmarish world of the play. As the night goes on, Williams pulls trick after trick from his theatrical arsenal, with stunning lighting (Nick Schlieper), terrifying sound (Max Lyandvert), mugs of fake blood, a glitter storm and plenty of white food, which gets smeared every which way. But there are no illusions here; everything is exposed…

At the same time, he’s serving Shakespeare’s (slightly condensed) text with intelligence and clarity. You’d probably get a little lost if you weren’t relatively familiar with Macbeth, as Williams makes no effort to “explain” things in the paternalistic directorial fashion that’s become all too familiar in Australian Shakespeare productions. His focus is instead on the emotional truth of the characters’ experiences…

This is a production that’s at once spectacular, gripping and almost brutally understated. Thank goodness Williams has forgone an intermission. It would be a crime to break this tension.

Weaving delivers everything that could possibly be expected of him in a muscular physical and vocal performance that simmers away before finally boiling over. He is the audience’s avenue into a play which is all about murder, witchcraft and ruthless ambition. The audience shares in every one of his moral dilemmas. He is a destroyed man by the end, and despite his monstrous acts, we’re all, somehow, on his side… It’s a rare thing to see actors go to places as dark as Weaving and Jurisic do and be sucked right in there with them. They both spend a substantial amount of time shrieking and wailing, but do so with engrossing conviction and connectedness. They’re constantly delivering their characters’ truths…

There’s nothing more thrilling than seeing a group of excellent actors giving their absolute all — these actors really do give their absolute all — in a production worthy of their efforts.”


“Front and centre #macbeth #thescottishplay #whoopsisaidmacbethinthetheatre” Ellise Hills via Instagram

David Spicer, Stage Whispers: “In the early moments only the extraordinary acting was holding it together. The publicity blurb promised a towering performance from Hugo Weaving as Macbeth and this was an understatement. He was booming, terrifying, and charisma personified…

I must admit, however, that I was beginning to yearn for them to start again. Wouldn’t we enjoy these performances even more, if we could do a swap and sit in the comfortable seats instead?…

Then, at last, some magic started happening and the initial discomfort was forgiven. Like the amnesia of child birth…

There was relief too when light, shade and texture was introduced onto the seating allowing for some of the murderous action to take place in the dress circle and stalls… There was also the thrill of being behind the curtain when it comes down, leaving us at close quarters with the demonic King of Scotland… Then the exhilarating beautiful finale as the cast is showered from above…

So was it worth the trouble of turning the theatre inside out?  The answer is yes…but once is enough.”


“#openingnight #Macbeth #sydneytheatrecompany program signed by #Hugoweaving #STC” Princess Abroad via Instagram

Polly Simons, Stage Noise: “There’s nowhere to hide in the stripped-back surrounds of Sydney Theatre, and no escape from Macbeth’s “vaulting ambition” and unrelenting personal anguish. It demands much from the audience – including the ability to endure the hideously uncomfortable seating – yet rewards them with a perceptive and genuinely thought-provoking production…

As a staging decision however, it is inspired; forcing us to bear witness to this nightmare of Macbeth’s own making and, together with some clever effects from designer Alice Babidge that conjure up the swirling fogs, howling winds and driving rain of the Scottish Highlands, making Macbeth’s isolation and despair in the latter stages of the play even more acute…

Weaving, as you would expect, is charisma personified as Macbeth: an ordinary man eaten up by guilt and feverish imaginings yet too far down his bloodthirsty path to ever come back…
Despite the diminished role given to Lady Macbeth in the production, Melita Jurisic shines, and there’s excellent work too from John Gaden, Robert Menzies and Ivan Donato… As Macduff and Lady Macduff respectively, Kate Box and Paula Arundell provide two of the most touching moments..

The production is not without its problems – the cavernous space of Sydney Theatre makes the dialogue, particularly in the first few scenes, hard to hear, and despite the hype over Williams’ back-to-front staging, the auditorium itself is barely used for more than a few scenes. ..

But for the most part, Kip Williams’ radical reworking makes Macbeth – much studied, much acted and often performed – seem fresh, new and different once again.”


“Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires. #stcmacbeth #backtofront” Zemmaline_1960 via Twitter/Instagram

Emily St John, Vogue Australia: “Kip Williams’ direction is unconventional and daring. The actors are devoid of costume, the table is bare bar a few props: a dagger, a cup of blood, a set of King’s robes. You might have guessed you stumbled in on a table read months before the final production…

But the opening scene’s humble beginnings unravel, along with the characters’ minds, to make the stage fit for a King and his Lady Macbeth. Melita Jurisic’s performance of the blood lust Queen is inspired and frightening. ..

This is a two-hour redesign of the classic Shakespeare tragedy with no interval, a far cry from the original in many ways. But fear not, some things you simply cannot change. There is of course, plenty of blood… In a twist of cruel fate, the ten-week season is sold out. Fair is foul and foul is fair.”
*

Here are a selection of tweets from some critics promising reviews later, and from average theater-goers. Apart from the seating issues, they’ve all been positive:

Sydney Theatre Company has posted a synopsis and cast-character rundown for anyone anticipating confusion, though I would advise anyone new to the play (or Shakespeare) to read it in full prior to seeing this or any production; once you have a handle on the text it’s much easier to appreciate the specific performances and production choices. They’ve also added a new list of tips and warnings for ticket-holders, probably in anticipation of/response to complaints about the seating and need to be on time or risk being shut out.

Alice Babidge, the production and costume designer, spoke to Broadsheet about her creative choices; she and lighting designer Nick Schliper (who has done a lot of stellar work for the STC in recent years) also chatted with the Sydney Morning Herald. East Side 89.7 published an interesting, informative essay about the play’s themes and historic interpretations.

The reviews do make this production sound deliberately confronting in ways that I find exhilarating, but the theatergoers who haven’t seen Macbeth before (or who require a creature-comforts theatrical experience) might have problems with. I try to imagine what it might be like for anyone new to the play or Shakespeare; Macbeth was routinely read in high school when I was younger (that’s how I was first exposed to it– and loved it immediately) but I have no idea if that’s still the case or if it’s the norm in Australia. While I understand not wanting to feel uncomfortable in one’s seat, I have dozens of such stories about concerts and plays I’ve gone too over the years, and, in the end, such complaints are minor quibbles if the experience is otherwise rewarding. In some cases, it’s a badge of honor to have watched an outdoor concert in torrential rain and lightning with other stalwarts, or to endure BAM’s cramped, severely tiered seats (which seem designed for dwarves or amputees if you’re over 5’3″) in exchange for watching Geoffrey Rush climb up the wall past you into the loge balcony, or Cate Blanchett melt down as Blanche Dubois.

For some perspective, if my finances could handle it, I’d be more than happy to sit in a cramped coach airplane seat for a 22-hour flight to Sydney to sit in STC’s “uncomfortable seats” for a mere two hours if the reward was seeing Hugo Weaving play Macbeth. Thousands of Hugo Weaving fans and Shakespeare nerds all over the globe envy you if you have an opportunity to see this production. The inconveniences and discomfiture will just add interesting side-notes to the stories you tell your grandkids. 😉

If you are in Sydney August 4 and can budget for a particularly unique experience, Hugo Weaving and the STC are auctioning off two tickets to the performance followed by post-show drinks with the leading man, all to benefit Theatre of Image, a cause Hugo has supported for many years, including serving as their ambassador. More details here.

The Hobbit: The Battle Of Five Armies At Comic Con

Peter Jackson and an impressive array of cast members from the final Hobbit film appeared earlier today at an hourlong-plus panel promoting the film, which also featured an extensive cast Q & A, the first viewing of the teaser and a hilarious-sounding blooper reel. While non of the video, including the preposterously long-awaited teaser, has yet been posted online, you can read a detailed synopsis of the event at TheOneRing.net, which features a generous selection of photos. Of the major cast members, only Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen and of course Hugo were unavailable due to other work commitments. Cate Blanchett was surprisingly on hand and the sneaky Laketown spy who bears a striking resemblance to Comedy Central pundit Stephen Colbert moderated with a hilarious running commentary.


Cate Blanchett looms over the BOFA panel at Comic Con (via TheOneRing.net)  L to R: Steven Colbert (at lectern) Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Graham McTavish, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis

Among the highlights: Peter Jackson hinted that Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel and the rest of the White Council do indeed stage av raid to rescue Gandalf from his cage at Dol Guldur, and that this is the context for all the BTS shots of Elrond in his armor that have been circulating. According to PJ, ” We do get to see Galadriel ‘losing it a bit’ in this movie,” in the context of battle. Blanchett added, “I lose my shit. My Elven shit”, prompting Colbert to quip, “I’m sure it sparkles.” Bard and Legolas (otherwise known as Luke Evans and Orlando Bloom) provided ample fan service by answering Freudian questions about whose bow was bigger and more accurate; they wisely split the difference. And Benedict Cumberbatch launched a tidal-wave of online dragon-porn by answering fan questions in character as Smaug. 😉

Ideally we’ll have some video of this or the teaser soon. Descriptions of the teaser from fans and bloggers on hand suggest it’s magisterial and tragic, with battle sequences, dragon carnage, Galadriel tending to a wounded Gandalf and hints of tragedy for some characters. (TORn panelists had earlier speculated Peter Jackson might up the death count from the book’s already-sad toll, to the extent some were joking George R R Martin was commissioned to handle the final draft.) There hasn’t been a lot of Elrond-specific content apart from confirming this still is indeed from filming of the Dol Guldur rescue/battle sequence which probably happens early in the film. (Hugo also apparently provides some fan service of his own by switching between Smith and Elrond personae in the blooper reel shown during the panel… Ian McKellen also dances in character in his scanties, apparently). I’m cautious about hoping for too much Hugo screentime in BOFA given his limited time on set, and the fact that he wasn’t a part of third film Battle of Five Armies pick-up shoots last year.  But at least he gets to do more than stand around being upstaged by Galadriel and a bunch of insolent Dwarves. 😉

While we await that teaser or other video content, you can enter a contest to see a preview screening of BOFA in New Zealand on Peter Jackson’s Facebook Page or here (direct link), see the Smaug-tastic first poster for the film at Flickering Myth and read about PJ’s Evil Jester Cosplay Adventure here. There’s also ample SDCC/Hobbit panel coverage at Collider, /Film, Movies Edge, iO9, MTV and of course TheOneRing.net.

Since this entry is already quite long, I’ll wrap things up, promising to include any new Macbeth reviews or photos… or any film trilogy trailers fraught with heavy expectation. 😉

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