STC’s Macbeth: More Rave Reviews, New Productions Photos; Hobbit: BOFA Teaser Finally Debuts

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies Teaser Finally Debuts Online

Since Warner Bros and Peter Jackson were kind enough to release the new Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies teaser on PST time instead of New Zealand time,  I was able to arrange enough time to be on hand as it debuted… so here it is fresh:

That is nicely magisterial and elegiac without dropping too many spoilers about who lives and who dies. (I made the mistake of watching’s Hobbit panel which made very plausible guesses on this subject– not blaming them, as they warned us. Yes, I’m aware the book has been around for some 70-odd years, but PJ and co have never been afraid to change things up… anyhow, they’ve invented some characters and integrated others not originally part of this story.) We know Gandalf is safe despite his dire condition here… because even when Gandalf actually dies it’s not a permanent condition.

And from this I’m guessing Galadriel again upstages Elrond and the other members of The White Council, despite not being part of the original novel. 😉 I’m also guessing The White Council’s big moment will be early in the film (as Gandalf was in immediate peril at the end of The Desolation of Smaug) rather than as part of the titular conflict. Would love to be wrong about that and see more of those characters than expected, but I still don’t think it’s likely. I’m sure PJ opted to exclude any Elrond footage from the teaser to give an accurate sense of which characters dominate the storyline rather than which are “fan favorites”, though I’m not sure why Smaug isn’t in more of this. Maybe he’s part of the SFX excuse PJ provided for not having the full trailer available until this fall. Alas, the blooper reel described from the Comic Con Hall H panel remains under wraps for now. If it isn’t at least a DVD/Blu-Ray extra at some point, though, Smaug’s vengeance will seem piddling compared to mine 😉

Here, too, is the Comic Con Hall H panel for The Hobbit: BOFA from Saturday:

MagicInTheNumbers viaYouTube

You can watch The following other cast video interviews from Comic Con with Evangeline Lily (IGN, Clevver Movies), Benedict Cumberbatch (HitFix, HitFix 2 ), Cate Blanchett (HitFix ), Luke Evans (Super Comic Fun Time, HitFix) Bloom, Evans, Serkis and Pace (IGN), Bloom and Lilly (HitFix), Pace and Cumberbatch (IGN), Pace and Blanchett (Super Comic Fun Time). I’m sure I’ve missed a few. 😉

Apparently Warner has taken all the jibes about “Wait… who’s the TITLE CHARACTER of these movies again?” to heart, as Bilbo is front and center in the latest Battle of Five Armies promo poster.

Macbeth Reviews and Production  Photos

The reviews for Macbeth continue to be very positive, particularly in assessing Hugo Weaving’s performance, though some critics have specific quibbles about some aspects of the staging and/or other cast members’ interpretations. But that negative review from Limelight continues to be a bilious outlier, thankfully. It’s to be expected that a play this famous, which many critics and theatergoers will have read and seen staged in different ways– many different ways in some cases–  has to battle against everyone’s preconceptions about what certain characters should be, in addition to a jadedness in judging it against whatever previous productions one has seen.  Some critical comments seem unfair in that respect. here’s a difference between a performance not working and it simply failing to adhere to one’s preconceptions, though that’s a fine line. I admit I can be guilty of that myself, as I tend to be more dismissive of men in their 40s playing Hamlet, who’s supposed to be 25 at most. 😉  (Yes, I completely understand that most actors aren’t yet at the peak of their powers at 25.)

This production is as much about the act of performing the play as it is about the plot and characters, so I understand the motivation behind the “slow” start (which begins as a kind of table read as actors dissolve into their roles in full view of the audience) and the ending where Hugo breaks character and walks off after his death scene rather than going through the traditional stage blackout followed by genteel curtain calls. I’d have to see the production to know how well any of this actually works, or how I’d respond to it, so I’m not going to dismiss any criticism out of hand. But I get tired of the whole “some parts of the audience didn’t seem to get it” line. Stage directors need to find a specific creative reason to stage and reinterpret a play this famous and frequently-mounted, and this needn’t include soft-pedaling to the least common denominator. (I saw an actor pretty much ruin a local production of Macbeth last year by trying to perform the character as a variation on Walter White from Breaking Bad. Now, I own the mini-oil-drum Blu-Ray set of that series, but that’s taking trend-hopping too far. Also, he failed to understand the nuances of either Macbeth OR Walter White.) 😉 The use of pancake makeup in STC’s production photos actually looks more shocking to me that the traditional torrents of more realistic “stage blood”… so I’ll repeat my entreaties to STC to please consider filming or simulcasting this. At least shoot a little video footage for the web. (STC has made some compelling trailers for previous productions like Uncle Vanya and The Maids, and MTC promoted their 2009 production of God of Carnage with snippets of play footage.)

Anyhow, here are excerpts of the latest reviews (including Jo Litson’s full review for The Sunday Telegraph, which hasn’t yet been posted online) interspersed with the latest bunch of Brett Boardman’s production photos. (Thanks to STC for adding several of these to their Macbeth page.) As always, WordPress readers can see the full-sized versions of images and scans by right clicking and clicking on “Open in a new tab”.

Peter Gotting, Guardian Culture Blog: “The director, Kip Williams, was also a risky choice for Andrew Upton and the Sydney Theatre Company for such a benchmark production – a relative newcomer and a resident director rather than a big name brought in from elsewhere. That name, instead, is Hugo Weaving in the title role. But their collaboration – an innovative staging and stunning central performance – turns Shakespeare’s play around literally and creatively…

Macbeth starts slow and this production particularly so… But as thunder develops and a dramatic fog builds, the show hits its stride. Williams uses the auditorium to full effect, helped by amazing light and sound design (much credit to Alice Babidge, Nick Schlieper and Max Lyandvert). Characters watch the action from random seats, Banquo meets his untimely end between two rows and, in a key speech, Macbeth moves through the auditorium row by row and line by line, the tension building as he progresses towards his subjects and the audience…

The banquet is not just frightening but frighteningly good, the long table gloriously dressed and the ensemble truly terrified as Macbeth faces Banquo’s ghost. And in the final act, the snow effect creates moments of true beauty – and tension – on stage…

Above all this stands Weaving’s faultless performance, making the most of the role in every line. Like the best Macbeths, his delivery is powerful but tragic. This king is human, most of all, and when he cries, we want to cry too. The fight scene is reimagined into a dramatic climax, with Macbeth alone on stage. Stunningly lit, this is an overwhelmingly physical portrait of a man struggling with his sword, and his demons…

John Gaden is brilliant, not just as Duncan but also as a child, the casting of an older actor a clever reference to this boy being tragically old before his time. Menzies gives clarity to various roles and Paula Arundell is a fine Banquo… But ultimately we have Weaving, who has found the role of his career. And he has done so with Williams, who should now be confirmed as a major directing talent. Together their vision is often startling but always shows the play full respect. It’s a thrilling combination.”

All production photos: Brett Boardman, via Sydney Theatre Co

Cassie Tongue, “In the hands of Alice Babidge the reversal of Sydney Theatre, with 900ish empty seats backgrounding the drama, is extremely successful. The empty space is overwhelming and increases the tension along that table: unsettled, we focus on the performers, so small and human against an imposing backdrop. When smoke consumes the makeshift stage and obscures everything from vision, we feel panic – everything has changed, Duncan is murdered and now there is nowhere to go but down…

Director Kip Williams has brought this turned-around Macbeth to the Sydney Theatre Company after an intensely moody-energetic-youthful Romeo and Juliet last year. With this new venture he proves the gift we suspected last year: he has an eye for the moments in Shakespeare’s poetry that matter. He re-shaped Capulet and Juliet’s relationship with nothing but directorial emphasis, and here, with the would-be King and his wife, the great partners of Shakespearean horror-romance, he hones in with precision and lets us look at them anew.. That’s the benefit of a show that we all have passing familiarity with; we’re ready to be, not disoriented, as the backwards staging might suggest, but re-oriented: going back to the heart of the matter.

Lady Macbeth (Melita Jurisic) is not, necessarily, ambitious. Here she seems to grab onto Macbeth’s (Hugo Weaving) ascension with no hands because she has nothing else. Her voice breaks on that telling, sole piece of backstory – “I have given suck” – and she clutches at Macbeth, begging him, it seems, to understand the gravity of what she is saying: I would destroy my precious lost memory for you to have this thing, so we have anything at all in our lives. Lady Macbeth is never really all there – she is from the first moment we meet her suppressing a keening, a desperation that only her husband can abate…

And Macbeth, in the hands of Hugo Weaving, who is magnificent in a way that’s a reorientation in itself (his work in last year’s Waiting for Godot was good, but this is extraordinary) is ambitious, yes, but he is also a husband and has a responsibility to the happiness of his wife; one gets the sense that he agrees so readily to Duncan’s murder because his Lady talks like it has to be done like her life depends on it. It’s not her fault – it’s his choice, or their choice together – but it is so dependent upon his connection with her that there’s no room for him to process the consequences…

Macbeth is full of it, shaking with it, crying with it helplessly, in a bravura performance by Weaving, who is incapacitated by his ghosts, so much so he is almost childlike in his sobs. It’s incredibly powerful and uncomfortable and impossible to look away from. Who knew this play could still leave such an impact?..

Weaving speaks in iambs like he’s born to it, and Jurisic soars with him, a lovely demonstration of their love through language and its delivery. Arundell speaks it with a refreshing plainness, finding economy in the poetry, which further demonstrates her opposition in life and outlook to Macbeth (it’s so well done)…

And isn’t it so nice to see characters who are really in the play? No one is dismissive: their lives depend on what happens to Macbeth, to themselves, to their families, and that sense of urgency is never, ever hidden behind a surface… This production of Macbeth is not afraid to be a production of Macbeth…

This is spellbinding theatre and Weaving carries heaving fear on his shoulders at is centrepiece, but the entire company is excellent, particularly Box, Arundell and Jurisic, but all fill their multiple roles with solemnity and conviction, dive into witchiness without hesitation, give everything they have for almost two hours, without interval, with hardly any exits from stage…

ing Lear’s Cordelia couldn’t heave her heart into her mouth to save her life; these figures in Macbeth, the man and the Lady, the knights, the people who are just people who can’t stop something once its begun, even knowing the ending just gets worse and worse, couldn’t get their hearts out of their mouths if their lives depended on it… It’s exhilarating.”

Ben Nielson, ArtsHub: “While it is difficult to ignore the cavernous auditorium – an unorthodox arrangement that is as much a draw card as Hugo Weaving – it is not really the focus of the production. Instead, the text is brought to the forefront, without intrusion from set, costume or lighting. Obviously these elements are integral to the staging, but there is a clarity to director Kip Williams’ approach. Pared back and rather Brechtian, his vision is especially refreshing amid the trend to embellish and modernise classic texts. As a result, Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy really only exists through the words of the actors…

Among the hotchpotch cast, John Gaden as Duncan et al and Melita Jurisic as Lady Macbeth are particularly notable. Even Kate Box utilises her comparatively minimal role. But, try as they might to match him, Hugo Weaving’s talent is simply insurmountable. Perhaps if he were removed from the marquee, the remaining cast might have more easily met the audience’s expectations…

In the title role, Weaving provides a compelling and dynamic performance. His energy fills the surrounding void, and every motion is committed with captivating intent – from the careful punctuation of lines to the subtlest hand gesture. It is difficult to truly identify who or what Macbeth is, and so the complexity of his character becomes as chilling as the gruesome deeds he commits. To portray this, Weaving casts aside his own inhibitions in an explosive and confronting display of personality and emotion…

As Macbeth slowly unravels, the production becomes increasingly complex. The auditorium’s potential as a performance space is finally realised, the visual aesthetic becomes more intricate, and sound and light is better integrated…

Like Macbeth himself, the production possesses both strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately though, every element contributes to Williams’ undeniably clever staging. It is a relief that he so capably controls this extraordinary vehicle – his vision transcending professional inexperience, the gimmick of the performance venue and Weaving’s star power….Rating: 4 stars out of 5″CJ here: when is acting talent a “gimmick” exactly? Hugo Weaving didn’t become famous for the sake of being famous– in fact he’s done quite a bit to back away from fame as an end unto itself, which is why he’s doing Macbeth in Sydney instead of an endless procession of Marvel sequels. Some Australian critics– like many New York critics– take the provincialism and the “obscure local talent must be more pure than internationally famous talent” thing too far. Yes, some stage casting is gimmicky and fame driven, but Hugo Weaving started out as a stage actor, first and foremost. If you agree, as this critic grudgingly does, that he’s capable of these kinds of roles, his fame shouldn’t figure negatively into the review.

Also, this review and the following one take issue with the end of the play; I’ve seen enough raves to belie the notion most audience members either didn’t “get it” or didn’t like it.  I find uncomfortable laughter is a normal human reaction to a confronting or unexpected element of staging, or any development in stage or film one simply doesn’t know how to react to initially. So no, I don’t believe the play’s finale is routinely greeted with “amused snorts” as Jason Blake puts it. I’ve reacted with uncomfortable laughter to a lot of plays or films I eventually came to love or respect. I think it’s more a startle-reaction that anything else. I haven’t seen a single negative comment from an audience member (who isn’t a professional critic) about this aspect of the play.  As I said before, given the deconstructionist approach taken from the start, this ending fits, at least in an abstract sense. I guess the particulars of how Hugo exits would sway my opinion as to how well it works, but I do “get it”.

Jason Blake, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald: “Macbeth begins with the cast in their civvies (Babidge’s idea of civvies, that is, dreary as) taking places at a long table and the play starts without ceremony. Robert Menzies, Ivan Donato and Kate Box dunk their faces in a plastic tub of water to become the witches. Melita Jurisic’s Bloody Captain dribbles gore down his plastic mac while John Gaden’s Duncan holds court at the end of the table. Macbeth (Hugo Weaving) sits centre, brooding. It’s the calm before the storm…

Weaving lets rip with a “So foul and so fair a day …” that sounds like it’s escaping from a boiler. His way with Shakespeare’s prose is musical, full of colour and modulation. The conflicting impulses of kinsman and regicide are vividly displayed…

Jurisic’s Lady Macbeth is no less sonorous and in their scenes together the text sings. To ears attuned to the more downbeat way actors have been speaking Shakespeare of late, however, they run the risk of appearing overwrought or somehow “other” in a world in which everyone else acts in a more subdued range…

At the end, Macbeth lies dead among the glitter while Malcolm is ceremonially dressed in ornate doublet and white stockings, as if he’s about to star in some outmoded, grandiose production on an adjacent stage. Given he’s about to be “crown’d at Scone”, I suppose he is, in a sense. But I’d venture many in the audience will be unsure as to what the message is. ..

And what to make of the dead Macbeth getting up and presenting himself expressionless to the audience before stalking offstage? Amused snorts on opening night suggest this moment needs some fine-tuning.”

“Everybody’s a critic” 😉

I’m going to embed the print version of The Australian’s review in addition to Jo Litson’s Sunday Telegraph review to circumvent The Australian’s stingy page-view limitations. They need to implement a system like the New York Times or Sydney Morning Herald, which allow a certain number of page-views (including multiple looks at THE SAME PAGE without treating it as multiple “views”) before the requests for money start up.

Review: John McCallum for The Australian, published 27 July 2014; Photo: Brett Boardman

Review: Jo Litson for The Sunday Telegraph; Photo: Brett Boardman. Published July 26, 2014

Also: Alice Babidge spoke to Gay News Network about her vision for the production design.

In Other Hugo Weaving News

It isn’t much to go on (yet) but Netflix has bumped Mystery Road to the top of my Saved Queue, usually an indicator that a DVD release is at least scheduled in the future, though no specific date is given in this case. Though the film has opened sporadically in New Zealand and the UK (and has been a strong presence on the festival circuit for a year), the only official DVD/Blu-Ray release has been in Australia; that looks likely to change soon. Though it won’t be without quibbles from me about Well Go USA’s stingy handling of the film and unwillingness to issue it theatrically over here. (Would love to be wrong about that… there’s still time…) 😉  Also, a nice, succinct review of the film at bubblews.


2 thoughts on “STC’s Macbeth: More Rave Reviews, New Productions Photos; Hobbit: BOFA Teaser Finally Debuts

  1. Hi, I am a fan of Hugo Weaving, and I enjoy your posts very much.  I will be in Sydney from the 20th to the 28th of August and have a ticket to Macbeth.  If you would like I would try to get a program for you.  Please let me know if you would like one. Myrna Barnett-Lawson

    1. Hello,

      Thanks for your kind offer. My good friend (and our “Sydney correspondent”) Yvette has already offered to send me a program, but if for any reason that doesn’t work you, I’ll let you know. First and foremost ENJOY THE PLAY! 🙂 I’ll be seeing Cate Blanchett in The Maids early next month (in NYC) but still wish I had the budget for Sydney. I did see Uncle Vanya during its US tours and it was a transcendent experience.

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