Hugo Weaving Rumored To Act In Anand Gandhi Project; Latest STC Macbeth Reviews & Pics

It’s been awhile since a new Hugo Weaving film project has been announced (probably because Hugo has been rather busy lately, and will be through September)… but plausible rumors have surfaced connecting the actor to Indian director Anand Gandhi’s next project, set to film early next year. I do qualify these reports as “rumors” so far because neither Hugo nor his management have confirmed them, and no official press releases have appeared indicating a contract has been signed, but unlike the Star Wars rumors from earlier this year, I do take these seriously. Hugo Weaving met Anand Gandhi at last year’s Sydney Film Festival (not Melbourne International Film Festival, as some sources erroneously report), and both served on the festival’s jury panel, with Hugo presiding as president, though all indications are that he didn’t exert much authority in the post, allowing three other jurors to award the main prize to a film he couldn’t bring himself to praise. (I suspect Gandhi was another dissenting voice in this selection, though he wasn’t interviewed like Hugo was.)

Weaving was effusive, however, in his praise for Gandhi’s film Ship of Theseus, which screened at SFF 2013, calling it  “[A]n absolutely rare and profound piece of cinema, full of wonder and enlightenment. Anand Gandhi has proved himself as a groundbreaking filmmaker” . (He later presented the film in its 2013 Australian release.)  Gandhi also mentioned discussions with Weaving and the SFF in a June, 2013 article in India Link: “I was just telling my friend Hugo Weaving, my friend and co-jury member here at Sydney,  that if we have the leisure to dream and imagine and invent, we also have the responsibility to do something interesting and thoughtful. If I have privileges, I must put them to good use.”  Later, in the press release for Ship Of Theseus’ Australian run with Hugo on board as presenter, he added, “”Hugo is one of the finest actors in the world, and one of the most amazing people I have had the privilege to meet. It’s such an honour that he is now presenting the film in his country.”


Hugo Weaving and Anand Gandhi, as 2013 Sydney Film Festival jurors, at screening of Ship of Theseus 11 June 2013  (via SFF Facebook)

 

Fast forward to the current rumors, having explained why I find them very plausible. The first report surfaced in The Mumbai Mirror’s online edition yesterday, and this source has been quoted in all subsequent online reports in Bollywood Life,  and American Bazaar Online. (All Indian English-language online papers… proving Hollywood and Australian entertainment sites only report on unconfirmed projects or rumors involving huge-budget American movies.) 😉

Here is the critical bit of The Mumbai Mirror’s story: “Revealed a source close to the development, ‘Anand had met Hugo during the Melbourne International Film Festival and Ship of Theseus left the actor awestruck. The two had discussed the possibility of collaborating back then, but nothing was finalised. Hugo was recently presented with the idea which he liked.’

Confirming the same, Anand told Mirror, ‘Yes, I spoke to Hugo recently and gave him a lengthy narration of a character I’ve written with him in mind and a brief of the script that I’m still in the process of developing. He loved the idea and has given me the go-ahead.’

Anand is tight-lipped about the details of the project, but said it will be a big-scale period-drama. The director intends to start once his next production, Tumbad, releases.”

While I’m always skeptical of unnamed sources, The Mirror did apparently do its homework and ask Gandhi directly. The error confusing SFF with MIFF is repeated through all subsequent versions, though American Bazaar Online did provide correct details about Sydney in its own reporting. (I suspect a lot of people simply copy/pasted the Mirror quote without checking its content… and frankly that’s not the important part of the story so long as the Anand Gandhi quote is accurate.) Gandhi hasn’t yet officially confirmed the project through his Twitter account or Blogspot site (though both have tons of thought-provoking content well worth a look).

So, though the project isn’t officially confirmed, it’s probably safe to qualify it as well beyond the rumor stage.. I’m being extra cautious because a lot of indie projects Hugo has been connected to over the years have either fallen apart in the planning/funding stages or for some other reason been delayed (Healing, Strangerland) or canceled (Eucalyptus). It sounds like Gandhi has specific plans for a shooting schedule and a script in some stage of completion. So this is in the same category as Glendyn Ivin’s next film One Foot Wrong in that there’s a stated intention for the participants to collaborate and a script, but not an official green-light or press release. Yet. But, given the health of the Indian film industry (though they can be as risk-averse as Hollywood regarding experimental films) I would bet Gandi’s project films before Ivin’s. Just a guess. I’m very eager to see either.  The suggestion it’s a period piece makes me worry– slightly– Hugo might be cast as some sort of Imperialist English Bastard (ie the typecasting that beset his early career)… but Gandhi probably has something more complex in mind given how multifaceted and category-defying his work has already been. (You can watch a gallery of his short films here. Alas, Ship of Theseus hasn’t been widely distributed in the US despite global festival acclaim, but region-free DVDs with English subtitles are available.)

New STC Macbeth Reviews And Pics

Reviews for STC’s radical reinterpretation of Macbeth continue to be largely positive, though individual critics liked and disliked different aspects of the production. Sydney Theatre Co finally posted a generous gallery of Brett Boardman’s production images (though curiously not ALL of them– a distance shot of Hugo in a shower of glitter and the beguiling shot of him brooding in the empty theatre seats, which I posted to the previous entry, are absent). But STC did include a few previously unseen shots, larger versions of images posted in reviews, and different versions of some images (different ratio or cropping) so fans should definitely take a look. I’ll be adding a selection between the latest review quotes as well. As always, do click on the links for sites of origin, as most of these are well worth reading in their entirety.


Hugo Weaving as Macbeth  All official production photos:  Brett Boardman via STC Facebook

Stephen Romei, The Spectator: “[STC’s promotion of this production] says this is Hugo Weaving’s Macbeth, and no one who sees this innovative, intelligent and thrilling production could accuse the promoters of false advertising. Weaving may not have been born to play the Scottish kingslayer but at 54 he’s certainly grown big enough for the role…

In the opening scenes, where we hear of the Thane of Glamis’s battlefield deeds, Weaving sits off to the side, luring the eye in hulking silence. Finally he delivers his opening line on the bewitched heath — ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’ — and from that paradoxical and melancholy moment we are bound to this violent, confused and frightened man. It is a performance of utter psychological complexity: Weaving has thought hard about this terrible and largely inexplicable character and the result is an interpretation full of insight and humanity.

That Weaving commands this show is no slight to all else involved. He is a bona fide movie star and to our good fortune his present interests are the theatre and small-scale Australian films. For good recent examples of his work in the latter, see The Turning and Mystery Road…

Director Kip Williams has taken some risks which by and large pay off. The most dramatic is an inversion of the Sydney Theatre space: the audience is seated on the stage — where there is room for only 360 — and the action unfolds against the disconcerting emptiness of the 900-seat auditorium. Boldy, Williams rarely uses this vacated space…

Director Kip Williams has taken some risks which by and large pay off. The most dramatic is an inversion of the Sydney Theatre space: the audience is seated on the stage — where there is room for only 360 — and the action unfolds against the disconcerting emptiness of the 900-seat auditorium. Boldy, Williams rarely uses this vacated space…

Weaving’s sonorous delivery makes every line count. The combination of the authority of his voice and his imposing physical presence charges even relatively minor speeches, such as when he walks almost into the audience to muse darkly about young Malcolm: ‘Stars hide your fires! Let not light see my black and deep desires.’..

The small cast — only eight actors — necessitates a lot of doubling, which is not my favourite thing. I suspect people who do not know the play well may find it confusing at times. And while I have no problem in general with women playing male characters this is a play with questions of manhood at its core and I did have some difficulties with Paula Arundell as Banquo and Kate Box as Macduff. I accept that their femininity can be seen as emblematic of the civil and political order Macbeth is slashing and burning — but then I wonder just how orderly things were anyway. Isn’t the world of Macbeth short and brutish — and dominated by brutes — from the outset?..

This is a Macbeth that starts a bit slowly and builds powerfully. As Weaving has said, it ‘moves like the clappers’. Director Williams guides this runaway freight train of a play with great art and skill. The star himself may have found the role of a lifetime (though I’d also love to see him as Coriolanus). I’m sure it’s not as lucrative as being a big elf in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth but I wager it’s a lot more satisfying.”

(You can also read Romei’s insightful Macbeth preview/interview of Hugo Weaving and Kip Williams here.)

Jo Litson, Scene and Heard: “Weaving does not disappoint, giving a passionate, compelling performance, but the production itself waxes and wanes somewhat…  It looks like a rehearsal room and when the actors appear casually dressed in contemporary street wear and begin performing seated at the table under a general lighting state, that’s exactly what it feels like. It’s a slow start…

But as Duncan lies dead, the production starts to hit its stride. The actors bang their hands on the table, Max Lyandvert’s visceral sound design picks up on the drumming and amplifies it tenfold, the stage fills with fog, the lighting changes and we’re off…

There are some other wonderful effects – the sudden fall of a black curtain not far from us, isolating Macbeth from the world beyond, for example, and later Macbeth strobe-lit in battle. There is also an extended fall of shimmering “rain”, which inevitably recalls the golden shower in Benedict Andrews’s production of The War of the Roses in the same venue. But, no matter, it’s incredibly beautiful and very effective…

Under Nick Schlieper’s lighting, the auditorium does become a haunting, ghostly backdrop. Williams doesn’t stage many scenes there but those that he does work well… Many liked Williams’ restraint in not using the auditorium too much; I liked what he did with it but felt he could have used it a little bit more…

Weaving gives a magnetic performance that focuses on Macbeth’s interior torture. He spits and snarls as he gives physical and emotional expression to the conflict that rages within him between vaulting ambition, doubt, fear, ruthlessness and fleeting regret. His anguish is utterly palpable…

As Lady Macbeth, Jurisic is so febrile and intense from the start that she almost leaves herself nowhere to go. Like Weaving, her vocals are rich and mellifluous but in starting at such a pitch, some of her dialogue is lost by the time she plays the mad scene…

In the end, however, the production – which runs a tight two hours without interval – is set around the mesmerising performance of Weaving. The back-to-front staging doesn’t make any strong comment on the play but proves to be an atmospheric backdrop and Weaving’s performance is thrilling.”


Hugo Weaving, Robert Menzies and Melita Jurisic

Tegan Jones, The AU Review: “This adaptation would be special simply by having such a veteran powerhouse gracing the stage, but there is much more to this production than an impressive name attached to it. The play, as well as the role of audience members and players are subverted by having the former seated on the stage with the actors. Before a single character arrives you are left to gaze into the sheer majesty of the auditorium. The usually filled seats lie empty, eerily staring back at you. If nothing else, it more than establishes the ambience of the performance…

Once the play begins, it becomes immediately obvious that it’s going to be quintessentially minimalistic. Characters are clothed in modern clothing that borders on dull and the few props that surround them are used multi-purposely… Initially, all of these creative choices makes it seem like you’re witnessing the first read-through or perhaps an early rehearsal, as opposed to the finished product… and yet, it works…

Being stripped of context and costumes enables the audience to become truly immersed in the story itself, because there is literally nothing else to focus on besides Shakespeare’s words and the performances of the actors. There is nothing that they can hide behind, which only highlighted how truly talented the ensemble truly was. I have no qualms with admitting that it was the best performances of anything that I’ve ever seen. Weaving was an inspiration as the doomed Macbeth. Any words that I use to describe his command of the stage would be doing him a disservice. However, I will say that watching him fall into insanity was a disturbing pleasure. The cast that supported him were also incredible, and I often found myself being mesmerised by Lady Macbeth (Melita Jurisic) and Banquo (Paula Arundell)..

I urge anyone who gets the chance to see Macbeth, to do so. It has truly reinvigorated a classic that will knock the breath out of Shakespeare fans and newcomers alike. We don’t normally do scores for theatre reviews on the AU, but if we did, this would be a FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE) performance.”

Dee Jefferson, Time Out Sydney: “When STC announced that its Macbeth would reverse the space at Sydney Theatre (the audience on stage; the actors in the auditorium), one assumed they had some dramaturgical purpose in mind – some way in which this concept would elucidate or recast Shakespeare’s play…

As it turns out, that’s not really the point in Kip Williams’ production – although arguably, putting the audience on the stage positions us to throw our lot in with the actors (per the final act: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more.”)…

Still: the novelty of the experience and the way that Williams and his design team have used the space is so visually striking and dramatically effective that you can’t grumble. Heck, there’s a chase sequence around the stalls, and it’s fun…

The simplicity of the staging throughout throws Shakespeare’s gorgeous poetic language into relief, and gives his gothic imagery – bats and blood, supernatural phenomena (Floating daggers! Witches! Visions!) and atmospheric events – plenty of room to breathe. One quickly realises that this is a play worth seeing for the language alone…

Some of the cast deliver their lines better than others: predictably, John Gaden, a veteran of the stage, shines here – he speaks Shakespeare’s language as though it were his native tongue, and his natural cadence better allows the interpretation of each phrase’s meaning. Menzies and Weaving also know what they’re doing, and are a pleasure to hear. Melita Jurisic, a wild-haired prematurely-unhinged vision of Lady Mac, delivered less intuitively on the night in question (Monday July 28), and many of her lines seemed almost indecipherable by comparison…

Once you get over the surprise – it’s not a play amongst the seats; it’s not a star vehicle for Hugo – this emerges as a strong, satisfying, gimmick-free production in which Shakespeare’s text shines brightest.”

(You can read Time Out Sydney’s Macbeth preview interview with Hugo Weaving here.)


Hugo Weaving and Melita Juisic

Claire Hanson, The Conversation: “Director Kip Williams has inverted the traditional theatre space: audience members enter through one side door and take their rather uncomfortable seats on what would be the stage/backstage of the theatre. In the program notes, Williams claims that ‘it is space that has conjured story’…

Beautiful, clever lighting (by lighting designer Nick Schlieper) generates different moods for this seating space; at one point a faint blue lighting picks up the tops of the seats, which glint almost like water at night. The production sticks predominantly to the main stage space, but gradually and tentatively unfurls a little across the theatre…

The seating achieves a mirror effect which is simultaneously aesthetically pleasing and a little disconcerting. We are always reminded of ourselves as spectators, and this meta-theatrical tone suits the play. As Weaving’s eponymous protagonist reminds us:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing…

 

Weaving’s performance is captivating. In particular, his pacing is wonderful to behold. He has a habit of pausing and running on at unusual points, which keeps a listener’s interest.

While the space contends for attention, all else is designed to focus on the exploration of Macbeth’s inability to cope with the situation which he tortuously creates for himself. Weaving moves from a crumbling, terrified wreck, screaming and flailing on the floor in fear of Banquo’s ghost, to callously murdering the pregnant Lady Macduff and her young son…It’s an interesting portrait of a deeply unhappy and weak man who swings from one extreme to another, creating his own situation and then bemoaning his helplessness; he lashes out violently then reflects bitterly and deeply…

This introspective focus on Macbeth’s personal failings comes at the expense of the witches, their supernatural aids, and the role of the supernatural more generally in the play. The witches suffer a significant loss of power and agency in this production…

The production has moved the sense of the mysterious unknown usually conjured by the witches into [the] physical forces of fog, wind, and glittering rain. These are tied far more closely to Macbeth than they are to the supernatural…

This production is focused on exploring two things: that strange space of the theatre, with its eerie emptiness and its always fleeting occupations of space, and Macbeth as an isolated, introspective man…”


Love a last minute #invite to a #culture evening. My treat tonight, watching #hugoweaving at an incredible #performance of #macbeth at the #sydneytheatrecompany #stc #sydney #therocks #walshbay #australia” Photo: sandyshakes via Instagram

 

N. Gregory Finger, Dinner And A Show Blog: “Well, we’ve long been calling for the STC to take greater risks with their staging, and it seems that in director Kip Williams they’ve finally found the man for the job. Anyone who saw his rendition of Romeo and Juliet last year will remember the breathtaking spectacle that he was able to achieve; but whereas Romeo and Juliet was done on the epic scale, Macbeth is on the intimate. But therein lays the genius of this production. Because it is on the intimate level: the usual 900 seat capacity of the Sydney Theatre is here only a third of its usual size and the main stage has been reduced down to a narrow platform, putting the audience right up near the action. But behind it rises a vast and empty auditorium, creating a cavernous space as a backdrop. Just like the ‘poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage’ we are reminded that each of our lives are played out in a confined sphere, while behind us looms a much larger world and society that encompasses us; and when someone is in the public eye, like a politician or a king, it passes judgment as well. Williams’ inverted stage invokes these feelings…

Hugo Weaving plays the title role. Weaving’s Macbeth is simply brilliant – he is human, volatile, and vulnerable. Weaving produces beautiful moments of tragedy; as he settles on Banquo’s ghost for the first time a collective shiver runs down the audience’s spine. When he hears of the Queen’s untimely demise, Weaving does nothing, and in doing so, we see everything.  It is a pleasure to watch an actor of such calibre flawlessly execute one of the meatier roles in Shakespeare…

Unfortunately, Melita Jurisic misinterprets Lady Macbeth. Jurisic denies any sexuality embedded in the role; there is no chemistry to speak of…  Both leads are supported by a solid ensemble. Made up of Kate Box, Ivan Donato, Paula Arundell, Eden Falk, John Gaden and Robert Menzies, the cast weave their magic and prop up the many characters found within the Scottish play. However, there needed to be greater lyricism and clarity in their Shakespeare. The exception to this is Gaden, a veteran, who speaks this text with natural cadence…

This is that very rare thing: an exciting and well thought out and executed piece of theatre. For those of you with tickets that are yet to see it you should not be disappointed.”

Mystery Road

While we await US distribution (likely to be mostly VOD/DVD.Blu-Ray focused at this point, alas…) there are more specifics available for UK DVd/Blu-Ray issue; Axiom films has the UK rights and plans a 27 October release, according to Blu-Ray.com. No details on the home video extras yet, but I assume they’d be comparable to last year’s Australian package. Axiom also lists a 14 August theatrical release on its website, though I suspect it’ll be limited to arthouses.  But I commend Axiom on at least releasing it to cinemas at all… I suspect US audiences who missed last year’s festival screenings won’t even get that much. Please prove me wrong, Well Go USA! Also, Foxtel plans on a VOD release in Australia later this year, according to Mystery Road’s Facebook page.  Finally, there’s a positive new review up at Electric Sheep Magazine.

Manny Gets Censored

If you’re in the Washington DC area next month, Manny Gets Censored, a short film narrated by Hugo Weaving, will be playing as part of the DC Shorts Festival as part of Showcase 4 (since the film is only eight minutes long, it’ll be screened as part of an 8-film, hour and a half block). If you’re not able to attend in person, the festival does have an Online Festival component allowing access to all 100+ festival shorts; alas, only those buying tickets at DC-area box offices will get the very-reasonable $15 price for this access; all others get a rather steep charge of $35. However, the DC Shorts website does feature a generous gallery of free online short films from past years’ festivals, so patience might eventually pay off if $35 for eight minutes of Hugo narration is a bit much. (If the other short films scheduled sound promising, that might balance things out a bit…) Also, the film now has a Facebook page which should update if additional screenings or online viewing opportunities become available.

The Hobbit: the Battle Of Five Armies

No major breaking news (or production diaries) at the moment, but every time a new random still of Hugo in elf armor turns up, it automatically generates a lot more online buzz that anything I’ve just discussed. One reason I’m putting it last; someone has to offer a little perspective. 😉

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