Monthly Archives: April 2015

STC Endgame: A Night With The Actors Transcript & New Photos; Performance Photos & Reviews

Once again, our Sydney Correspondent Yvette has some through, providing notes for this complete transcript of the 13 April Night With The Actors event. Actors Hugo Weaving, Bruce Spence, Tom Budge and Sarah Peirse sat for a Q & A session following that evening’s performance of Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Endgame. Yvette and some other lucky audience members in attendance took some great photos of the event, which I’ll also embed. While I’ve done my best to ensure accuracy, please bear in mind that this is my transcript of another person’s notes, so transcribing errors along the way are always possible.  If you were at this event and have any corrections to offer, do let us know. As always, my undying thanks to Yvette for her kindness in letting those of us not able to make it to Sydney (or to that specific performance) experience it vicariously.


Sarah Peirse, Hugo Weaving and Andrew Upton     Photo: Yvette/@LyridsMC via Instagram

[Note: Andrew Upton’s introduction and initial remarks weren’t copied and are thus abbreviated, as are some audience questions. Other remarks are edited for clarity and because, in some instances, they weren’t heard properly. All such alterations are clearly noted. Again, apologies. 😉  ]

Andrew Upton: We tried to be true to the text… Inside the play, there’s supposed to be a really precise sense of space and time. So that was the process we used on Waiting for Godot. And then in talking to Hugo [about the current season],  we decided we’d like to revisit  the “Beckett Experience” . And it really is quite a distinct experience. The language is so strong, the imagery so rich, and the emotional side is so deep and rewarding. I know  it appears quite bleak from the outside or as you glance off it as a reader or as an audience, but [from a creative standpoint] it’s incredibly generous. Incredibly generous language, and constructions and scenarios. So when you’re talking about having what we’ve tried to say in it, which is, just follow the directions. They are illuminating and liberating. They’re very, very scripted on the surface, and yet once you get inside them, there’s 150 emotions being unpent. And with that liberation…Once you face all of it, there’s a lot of philosophy, a lot of cross-referencing, there’s a lot of deep– [whistle from the audience] There’s a cricket! [laughter]… there’s a lot of detail… that I could not link link any poem to to myself. So we… and just followed the instructions.

Moderator: I imagine that being too literal with Beckett would suck he magic out of it.

AU: Yes…

Moderator: I wonder how much you need to know to create the play, and how much depth, obviously… deciding that Hamm had polio at 13 [for example] and that’s why his legs don’t work might not fit [Beckett’s directives], but how much real-world stuff did you need to hold on to, and how much could you do without …?

AU: Well, that’s a fascinating question, actually. Because that is the great misunderstanding– other than there being no humor– around Beckett, is that it’s obtuse and unrealistic. And actually it’s as it’s as realistic and any Chekhov .. it’s as naturalistic as any piece of Gorky or Ibsen. It’s not crazy, jazzed up … It’s a really, really realistic piece. And this realism inside that needs to be honored quite rigorously by the actors and the director. They can’t bend the directions. Because [narrative] “answers” like polio or schizophrenia or depression aren’t really enjoyable, and aren’t answers that allow you to resonate. So you avoid such prosaic [choices], but they play remains very real about our sense of the apocalypse. About the story of how much Hamm tells, how much that’s true. How much truth lies inside. Is it the story of how Hamm has failed, how all of us fail.


L to R: Bruce Spence, Tom Budge, Sarah Peirse, Hugo Weaving, Andrew Upton and moderator Sarah Goodes. Photo: Amber Gokken via Twitter/Instagram

[Upton introduces the cast– Hugo Weaving, Sarah Peirse, Tom Budge and Bruce Spence–who take their seats onstage]

Moderator: As actors, do you come from the outside in or  do you work from the inside out, and how much truth do you need to pin down [your characters]?

Hugo Weaving: I tend to work from the outside in, I think, because the truth is not apparent immediately. I take [character cues] from the text’s architecture in, from observing [the play’s] form and structure, and then try and maintain that form, and then slowly illuminate for ourselves something about the internal journey to doom of these of these characters.

Moderator: Sarah, did you find, in the bin–

Sarah Peirse: It was HOT in the bin [laughs]. Yeah, he’s right… the architecture of the writing informs the way in which you start to understand rhythms that are within it. And you’re definitely surfing some fairly usual territory… [At the beginning of rehearsals] I was reasonably unsure about how it would proceed, but then, actually, if you just keep reading, and keep participating in the process of doing the lines out loud, and listening, in fact, the journey sort of makes itself apparent. That was an interesting experience.

Hugo Weaving: For any of you that play music.. I’m not a musician, but I would think it would be quite similar to being in an orchestra, or being in a small group, and working through a piece of music for the first time. You read music and you observe the score and meter, and the intervals and pauses– you observe the structure of it, and then, after while, the more you play that, the more you hear that, the more… the reasons you find for it being in the first place start to become apparent to you, and I think that’s very true of Beckett.

Moderator: What process did you need to find in the rehearsal room to bring the humor alive, or was the humor something that just bubbled up of its own accord?

Andrew Upton: It’s pretty impressive… it’s got some of the funniest lines hidden in it, but I do fear that if you read the outside world that is depicted too heavily, [the humor] is easy to lose sight of… “Oh god, it’s the end of the world, I’m a goner and there are all of these poor people in bins” [Laughter] But if you’re just IN there, a line like ‘What’s to keep me from going’ [

Hugo Weaving: Even though it’s the end of the world, and [the population is] down to four people…and they certainly think about it [being] very hard…Even if you were in that place, you would have to assume… they still have to resist… they can’t think about it 24/7, otherwise they’d just go mad. Well, they probably ARE mad [laughter]. They have to pass the time, and disappear into flights of fantasy, I suppose, in order to relieve the terrible boredom and despair. Therefore, it’s humorous. It becomes funny, despite… well, it’s both. It’s a deeply serious play, but it is funny. And I think, [in the worst of it],  the relationships seem to be they key to finding humor. The pairings, and the way those two groups interact with each other. And I think a lot of the initial humor seems to come from that.

Moderator: Tom, what was your experience in the rehearsal room?

Tom Budge: Um… difficult. [Laughs] At first. I found the language– to read– it’s real exciting and lovely. But I found it really hard to push it into a flow. And it took quite a lot out of me to get the highs and lows of what we had to do. I’m still figuring things out [Laughs]. It’s really interesting– you do have a moment, sometimes, I’m back in my little cave back there, I’m thinking about what we’ve just done, or something, and I’m thinking that’s the truest version of that interaction or something, and then I’ll turn that around in my brain [the next time we have to do the play] and think, ‘Oh, no! That wasn’t it!’ It’s still evolving, for me, still changing in small ways.

Andrew Upton: It’s very, very alive drama.


Night with The Actors photo: Sienna W via Twitter

Moderator: And Bruce?

Bruce Spence: It’s my first play in a bin [Laughs] Look, I’ve found it a superb journey. Mainly, to be really honest,  It was… the text… it’s always in the text. That’s where Beckett is.  And I’m sure that if you go and see another production of Endgame, it’ll be totally different to this one and so on. They’re all different, because it’s the human contribution that’s made. Particularly I think Andrew really has coached lots of textual and dramatic stuff out of us too, so I really give him a lot of credit for that. I’ve found it a wonderful journey. The comedy, or should I say the humor, just comes out of the moment, out of the language. You don’t consciously look for it.  Although Beckett did love vaudevillians, he loved sort of raw comedy, et cetera, you can see that in his sort of logic. But also, I just wanted to make a point: I think Beckett,  Endgame, Godot, et cetera,is part of a long legacy of writers like this. Especially from when the absurdists started writing, people like Beckett, Joyce and Pirandello and a million others. Then you had the logic of The Goon Show. And if you remember The Goon Show, there’s this sort of distorted logic in that that’s very similar to this, and then on and on, and even to Monty Python, etc, and I think a lot of people, a lot of writers even now owe a lot to Beckett, and that sort of way that he saw the world. That sort of jagged, distorted way.

Moderator: One final question for Hugo and Andrew, before we take questions from the audience: What was the evolution of working together, going from Waiting For Godot [in 2013] to Endgame? Did you develop a shorthand, or did you have to free-fall into it as a whole sort of experience?

Hugo Weaving: Let me answer: working on Godot was very, very difficult. Really the hardest thing that I had ever done, and I think that’s true for Richard [Roxburgh] as well. And it was pretty difficult for Andrew. So it was a very, very difficult play, but an incredibly rewarding play, and it was the most extraordinary experience. I really loved working on that, I loved working with Andrew on it, I think Andrew sensed that it was– I really think Andrew kind of gets Beckett in a great way. So once we picked into that seam, we were talking about perhaps doing another Beckett, and then Andrew suggested we do Endgame. So it really been a logical progression for us.

Andrew Upton: Yeah, I think we took the harder [play first]… it’s hard to describe. It is so plain and simple, Beckett’s work,  and that’s really hard to get. It’s hard to play, as actors, it’s hard to get it right, hard to get at the dialogue when you’re doing so much action,  it’s very, very difficult to hold in your hand, very mercurial. And I think all of those terrifying lessons– those rehearsals, battered as we were, we couldn’t…

Hugo Weaving: It was an emotional release, our first weeks.

Andrew Upton: Beckett is demanding.  I think audiences know that, and they weren’t expecting tea. It was a very free flowing experience.

Hugo Weaving: The first thing I think I learned doing Godot, that I brought into this [Endgame], was the technical demands of the piece are so acute. And yet also– you have to observe the structure– but you need to to be entirely present. And open every second of the play.  And I think that’s probably true  with every play, but with Beckett, somehow, much more extremely true than any other playwright. And I think it as a wonderful thing to discover, to bring to this [play.]

Moderator: It sounds like a real leap of faith.

Andrew Upton: Yeah, it’s a leap of faith, all right [laughter].


“Watched “Lord Elrond”- Hugo Weaving’s play #Endgame . Marvellous performance! Panel was impressive too.” Sienna W via Twitter

Moderator: It sounds like a real emotional tumble. You were talking about music earlier [Hugo]…  that at some point you have to let go.

Hugo Weaving: Well, Tamas Ascher, not Andy, was going to direct Waiting for Godot, and he couldn’t come for the first week. He was indisposed, so Andrew took over rehearsals for the first week, and we weren’t missing him anyway, because Tamas is Hungarian, so everything has to go through a translator, so we thought maybe we’ll make the most of this because we’ll have a talk alone about Beckett because [Tamas] couldn’t immediately come [to Sydney]. And then he didn’t come… and it became very clear during the second week of rehearsals that he WASN’T coming. [Laughs].

Andrew Upton: Not at all.

Tom Budge: How appropriate! [Laughs] Because it’s CALLED…

Hugo Weaving: And so Andrew took over… and it was a challenge going forward, [though] it’s not hard for me have faith in Andrew, that’s very easy. That was a very good side effect. But it was suddenly a very different experience and a great experience, doing this play. A very exciting [rehearsal] room. A very open room.


“Happy birthday Samuel Beckett! What an evening at SydneyTheatreCo #Endgame #HugoWeaving #TomBudge #AndrewUpton” Valerie L via Twitter

Question #1 from the audience: Could you describe the role of silence in the play? The silences and pauses seem so ‘active’. Was that a conscious choice?

Hugo Weaving: Well, there are pauses that Beckett had, and a Beckett pause probably lasts between three and five ‘beats’, I suppose, then there are long pauses, and then there are silences that we have. So there are a couple of moments where we observe a sort of full stupid, or dumb silence where nothing is happening at all, almost, I suppose, it’s anti-theatrical in a way, but it’s a quite interesting place to play… There’s a lot going on inside [these characters], but it’s when the death…the nature of where they are fills them, that nothing can be said and nothing can happen, so actually, in a way, that can provide desperate, empty silences from the point of view of the characters. But they’re full of a lot of internal [reflection].

Bruce Spence: It’s like records of music, really. It’s the language, it’s the dramatic action that’s happened before,  the silence, and the dramatic action that might follow the silence. But there are silences and SILENCES. We had… when we were doing rehearsal at one stage, we paused at every pause, and it went on and on and on, and then we realized, ‘hang on, that silence is that long, and THAT silence is THAT long, and that silence is THAT long.’ [Laughs] That pause is that long. You need to sort of play that out. In all drama, whether it’s Beckett or whoever. It’s an organic thing. The factor that really determines a lot of that are the individuals that you’re working opposite. And so, with the four of us, we sort of combine and create an energy, and that’s what creates that music.

Sarah Peirse: But also, essentially, it’s the transaction that the performers have with the audience that actually forms the silence… the performers introduce the silence, and the audience is where the silence is met.


Tom Budge, Sarah Peirse, Hugo Weaving and Andrew Upton. Photo: Yvette (@LyridsMC) via Twitter

Question #2: Do you think the dramatic impact of the play has changed in the decades since the play was originally written? Beckett once said, “There are a heap of words, but no drama.” Is this still true?

Andrew Upton: I think there’s a great deal of drama in Endgame, actually. It’s got a gruesome drive inside it that’s quite relentless. Made– only made riveting by this feeling I’ve sort of whipped into them. [Laughs]

Hugo Weaving: He described it… He said ‘Godot is this long play about these awful people’ [Laughs]…. He said, ‘God help me, I can do no other’. [Laughs]

Andrew Upton: [Paraphrased] There is no highly-composed, staged ‘drama’ in the classical sense, but inherent drama created by the interaction of the characters.

Hugo Weaving: And even in the telling of the story, like Hamm’s preposterously long story, is sort of told in four or five voices, so there’s drama inside that, there’s the storyteller himself, he’s kind of acting the storyteller role, and then he’s telling the story from a couple of individuals’ points of view, and then there’s… you’ve also got a cricket getting comedy gone… that’s dark…  there is quite a lot of human turmoil in that drama, if you can only find one.  Beckett was probably saying to all the rest of us not to expect, you know, damsels getting run over by a train [or other stock plot devices.] There’s an enormous amount of human turmoil and drama in ALL of Beckett’s work, fantastic self-censorship, fantastic celebration of failure, and not knowing, and not being able to carry on. But carrying on anyway.


Tom Budge, Sarah Peirse, Hugo Weaving and Andrew Upton. Photo: Yvette (@LyridsMC) via Twitter

Question #3: It struck me that Hugo didn’t move his feet for the duration of the performance. There was no fidgeting. How did Hugo and Tom go about developing the different physical aspects of their characters? Was it intuitive, text-based, individual or mutual approach?

Tom Budge: Beckett states specific things about Clov [in his stage directions, such as his] stiff, staggering walk. And so for the first week [of rehearsals] I had one  fused leg, and moved the other one, so I kind of walked around like that. On the Friday night of the first week, I was back in my hotel room. I was limping. [Laughs] I couldn’t bend my leg. So I thought, aw, that’s probably going to ruin everything. [Laughs] So I kind of read a lot into his– Clov’s final speech, where he says now that he’s so bowed, and I loved the idea that the world is just crushing him. So that when he does fall, he will be fully pushed to the ground.  So I liked the idea of a bent back pushing him down. And that is also symmetrical, so I’m mindful of the physio of it. [Laughs]. That’s the idea of of it. So that’s why I kind of ended up on that foot.

Hugo Weaving: Again, Beckett [specifies that] Hamm can’t walk and is blind. So I decided… he’s sitting in a chair, and can’t lie down and can’t, you know [stand]… that his feet were probably swollen. So we got these very thick knitted socks. My feet do go to sleep. But they’re not… I do occasinally find it difficult in the curtain call to walk. [Laughs] But the hardest thing for me was the… not being able to see. And in rehearsal trying to work out whether it was best for me to literally not be able to see, or to be able to see a little bit through the glasses. And.. [the lenses are] painted, so it’s like looking at the back of a white wall very close to my eyes. But with little flecks I can see through, which I thought was important, because I couldn’t– It’s fiunny. I found it very hard to reference.. I found it very hard to speak. I couldn’t reference the visual. I found it very hard to judge logically in [telling] that long story. I found it very hard without any visual references to do. So that was a big challenge for me.


Photo: Yvette (@LyridsMC) via Twittter

Question #4: Just coming off that physicality question, my question is for Bruce Spence: You’re a prolific voiceover artist as well as a film and stage actor with a distinctive voice. What are the differences between voice acting and fully embodied roles? How do you approach creating a character with no physical presence?

Bruce Spence: Well, it was hard doing the bin. [Laughs] Obviously I had to thnk about that. Especially in rehearsal it was real hard. This one’s much easier. It’s the trext that really helps me. It must sound boring to say that, but I don’t really, consciously think up a voice. I just look at the script, and also listen to the music of the other actors too. I just work off the text.  And it’s it’s just [how]  the character that sort enters the situation at the turn of the vocal cues. When you’re doing animation [or voice roles where no other actors are present], you’re often given a character breakdown. So the character breakdown will often help you find the voice anyway. Once you know the character’s journey, et cetera, that will help you find the character’s sort of vocal psyche, level et cetera.

Hugo Weaving: The other thing is, in animation, the animators these days actually film actors during the recording, because they want to see the actor’s face. They use the actor’s face to animate the character. So whatever you’re doing, they absolutely… now,  they get try and the actors together to record, or they have you go back and re-record [lines in post-production as changes are made.] But the animators increasingly really want to see the actor’s face.  And they get all the actors to do physical stuff, whether you’re doing… whatever you’re being, whatever creature it is that you’re animating. The animators love that.

Bruce Spence: They’ll also provide you the drawings too, of your character, to kind of help you with your characterization.


Photo: Sydney Theatre Co via Twitter/Instagram

Question #5: What was Sarah’s experience of being the only woman in an ostensibly very ‘masculine’ play?

Sarah Peirse: I didn’t feel particularly… I guess in some respects Nell is not… everybody’s representative of beyond themselves,  of beyond their particular character. I didn’t feel particularly that the lack… other than the lack of potential of exploring Nell anyway. But she’s also… she’s the first one to die of these four, so I think that the read became, rather than a gender exploration, it became a journey of her limited returns. So really it was an experience of that rather than anything I think I felt particularly [about her gender.] Other than being conscious that this [relationship between Nagg and Nell] is a long marriage, so there were the rhythms of the marriage that it placed. The sort of irritations and the affection and the companionship and the longevity. And then at times the sort of.. we’re ourselves by Hamm being my son, so all of a sudden you’re playing or existing between two males, and I felt that that was a… for an older, dying woman whose husband and son were present, they were elements that I was conscious of. But that was not.. I wasn’t particularly thinking in gender terms.

Hugo Weaving: It’s interesting that you say that too, because I often think of these characters as being of indeterminate gender, unaware, and I think that Hamm overreacts at his mother, being the character of Hamm. So I sense very strongly his relationship to his mother, and also to his father, in his downfall…


Photo: Valerie L via Twitter

Question #6: Can you comment on the set design?

Hugo Weaving: Nick [Schlieper]’s not here… Nick did design the set and the lighting. I know initially he was looking at a lot of pictures of big water towers, and he was thinking of the play as a vertical play rather than a horizontal one.  His set for Godot was a fantastic, open landscape– for the proscenium, but with a great sense of space. And he was kind of interested in the claustrophobia, the nature of a set like this. Also, I think there was a [person] that used to take refuge in a tower up in the hills just outside Lebanon, just the walls, and I suppose he had that in the back of his mind as well.

Andrew Upton: We had a lot of chats about setting up a peopled space [creatively approaching Beckett’s stark set specifications]

Hugo Weaving: Basically he just says ‘Two windows. A door. A chair. Two bins. Grey light’. That’s really not much. So as long as you have those, don’t add too much onto it. Just don’t.  You can’t stick anything on Beckett, it won’t stay. It won’t work.

Moderator: That’s all we have time for. Thanks to our cast


“Rakish, intelligent and modest as always.” Photo: Yvette (@LyridsMC) via Twitter

***

Here are excerpts from the latest review of STC Endgame, with a few new production photos (by Lisa Tomasetti) originally posted to STC Facebook. STC recently posted a gallery of 13 of Tomasetti’s performance stills, though not the full range of photos that have appeared in reviews and elsewhere.. so there remains hope we still haven’t seen them all.  As always, the full reviews at sites of origin are well worth a look, so just follow the links.


Tom Budge as Clov and Hugo Weaving as Hamm  Photo (all 3 performance photos): Lisa Tomasetti

David Kary, Sydney Arts Guide: “A Samuel Beckett night at the theatre is like no other. One is just taken over by his bold, raw take on life. Even after all these years, one is still gobsmacked, stunned, by what one is taking place on stage. The experience is like being set upon by the coldest, bleakest wind….

One of our finest actors, Hugo Weaving, delivers one of his most memorable performances as one of Beckett’s most cruel, cantankerous characters, the blind tyrant, Hamm… The performances by Tom Budge as Clov, just brilliant, and Sarah Peirse and Bruce Spence, as his incarcerated parents are perfectly judged…

Summing up, this is the kind of play that gives one the creeps. I saw ENDGAME over a week a go, and I am still haunted by it. Hamm’s deeply sadistic nature…Clov endlessly running after him…hunchbacked…climbing up and down ladders…reporting back to him that he has seen nothing….All I can say is…be prepared!”

Maire Sheehan, AltMedia: “Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame makes what might seem tedious mesmerising as the players’ every gesture, word, and expression evoke a range of responses from the tragic to the ludicrous…

Hugo Weaving is mesmerising.  He is strapped into a chair and wears glasses that block out his sight.  He is the one in control, or is he?  He issues orders but he cannot move. The sparse stage setting and directions make Weaving’s smallest gesture highly visible and open to interpretation…

With a limited set and brilliant performances, STC’s production of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece is not to be missed. ”

Syke On Stage (Facebook): “After Godot, I suppose, Endgame, a one-act play with just four characters, probably stands as SB’s tour de force and director, Andrew Upton, has milked it for everything it’s worth, with his actors displaying the very keenest sense of comic timing…

While the performances that surround Weaving’s are robust, it’s Hugo’s production: suddenly and singularly, his idiosyncrasies and particularities—his Hugoisms—are optimally exploited; his deliberation in diction, declamatory disposition and facial contortions are all exceptionally well-utilised here, making for (at the obvious risk of alliteration) a charismatic, colourful and completely compelling characterisation…

Upton and team have encapsulated Endgame as precisely and evocatively as I can envisage being achieved. This, for mine, is definitive Beckett, the kind of Beckett which Beckett would’ve heartily endorsed. The man whose parents had high hopes of entering their quantity surveying enterprise didn’t disappoint, having become a surveyor of the human condition: marking it up, measuring, calibrating and calculating, so that we might build a chillingly accurate picture of ourselves; our foibles and follies. Upton has dusted it off and made it vibrant, even in its dinginess, all over again.”


“Having a chat with #HugoWeaving post #Endgame #play at #STC #theatre . Great #Actor…” Amber Gokken via Twitter/Instagram

Diana Simonds, Stage Noise: “In 2013, the cast of STC’s Waiting For Godot  waited in vain for fabled Hungarian director Tamas Ascher to arrive and take charge of rehearsals. He was unwell and, at the last minute withdrew, giving STC’s artistic director Andrew Upton approximately ten minutes’ notice to take over. The result was a triumph for him and actors Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, Luke Mullins and Philip Quast… There were some churlish types however who whispered that Upton was somehow merely the beneficiary of Ascher’s phoned in instructions via associate Anna Lengyel: that the production surely wasn’t really  his work…was it? The doubters should now be eating a large serving of humble pie if they were at the first night of Upton’s latest adventures in BeckettWorld…

Fascinating then that the production reunites Upton and Weaving: two men whose great friendship has recently been celebrated in print in the weekend papers. They seem, on the face of it, to embody opposing qualities: Weaving – all grounded gravitas and Upton – all impish flightiness. Yet appearances are deceiving and, of course, the superficial is exactly that. From their close collaboration on Endgame  it might be said that each brings out the opposite in the other, so Weaving’s old man Hamm is as capricious as Ariel even though he is confined to a chair and by his blindness. And Upton’s overall vision of Samuel Beckett’s one hour-50 minutes of waiting for the end of the world is at once as terrifying and hilarious as that unthinkable but logically likely event might really be… They are aided and abetted in the enterprise by a superb team whose expertise is exhilarating in its creativity and attention to detail…

Budge and Weaving bicker relentlessly but the weight of their miserable discontent is leavened by the ability of both actors to feel and extract every drop of humour from a word, a pause, a look, an intonation. The continuing ripples of laughter and outbreaks of chuckles and chortles coming from an audience in attendance at almost two hours of the end of the world is a tribute to the actors and their director in realising the play’s craftily concealed possibilities…

Like the moment in chess when it becomes clear all is lost, Endgame  is not easy, but like chess, if surrender is inevitable that’s when something else happens. In Beckett’s play that something is a play that rewards the capitulation of both audience and actors alike: give yourself up to it and the prize is intoxicating and life-enhancing. The end of the world may possibly be quite similar… Endgame  will sell out and no extension is possible as Upton and Weaving will be leaving for the Barbican Theatre for the restaging there of STC’s Waiting For Godot. Miraculously the original cast has been reassembled (Luke Mullins is currently playing Clov in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s own Endgame!) and I hope to be reporting on it from London. Meanwhile: this Endgame  is a brilliant production and not to be missed.”


A behind-the-scenes look at Endgame’s trailer, via STC Instagram

Cassie Tongue, Aussie Theatre: “Last year, Weaving and director Kip Williams turned the Roslyn Packer Theatre (formerly the Sydney Theatre) inside out, and Weaving’s Macbeth filled the gaping auditorium, filling the extraordinarily large space with his tormented Scottish King. This year, as Beckett’s Hamm, Weaving is confined to a chair onstage, and still he fills the room and draws the eye consistently, and he does it with a marriage of harshness, weariness, and a pinprick or two of vulnerability that melts into the darkness, leaving with a mess that lingers. It’s thrilling…

It’s an astonishing performance because of its exhaustive complexity; Weaving’s own brilliance allows him to create a Hamm that radiates authenticity; not quite a broad-strokes tyrant or distant cipher, but someone who dances on the edge of sympathetic before pulling back and ordering instead a cruel command…

Upton and Weaving work well together; in Upton’s Waiting for Godot, which will tour London’s Barbican Theatre later this year, Weaving’s Vladimir was disarmingly good. Here, in Endgame, which Weaving has associate directed, together they creates the tiniest sensations that tend to take a corner of the brain and refuse to be forgotten…

Upton’s directorial touch is never light, it’s too decisive to be light, but between Weaving’s mastery from his chair and Budge’s bent-double pottering, occasionally with one battered bunny slipper and one boot on, and the cracked-white faces of Nell and Nagg peeping and huddling, and the softest sounds of dripping water,  it becomes easy to think he’s not there at all, that this play has stood in its place at the Roslyn Packer for a hundred years, that these four have lived here too long, long before and after Upton showed his hand and shaped this one hundred or so minutes’ worth, and that’s perhaps the greatest compliment it can be given.”

***

You can hear Bruce Spence’s ABC Radio interview about Endgame and his film career here.

In Other Hugo Weaving News

The Key Man is now available to stream on Netflix in the US.

The Dressmaker is set to complete post-production by the end of June. an early cut is being shown to potential buyers at the Cannes Film Festival this month; according to Inside Film, the distribution right for 18 countries have already been snapped up, and the film will be screened for potential US buyers on 30 April. The film opens in Australia on 22 October and might possibly have its international premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Healing has been awarded the ADG Finders Award by the Australian Directors Guild, according to Inside Film. The award is given to the most accomplished submitted film which has yet to receive US distribution. Director Craig Monahan “will accompany the film when it’s screened later in the year for distributors, managers and agents in LA and NY.” Ideally this will help the film get deserved theatrical distribution, and might spur Anchor Bay into rehinking its appalling treatment of the DVD release and its laughably inaccurate cover art, which I respect the cast and filmmakers too much to display here. Suffice to say that apart from a poorly color-enhanced image featuring Don Hany and the eagle (a more artistic version of which served as the film’s Australian poster art and home release art) NOTHING depicted on Anchor Bay’s imaginary cover actually appears in the film. I thought this sort of insulting treatment of foreign films in US home release died out in the VHS era, but alas, no. Let’s hope it’s not too late to change Anchor Bay’s mind. If they release the DVD with that cover, I certainly won’t be wasting my money on it… I have already bought the Aussie version. Most of all I’d like to see Healing in the cinema setting it richly deserves.

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STC Endgame Night With The Actors Post-Performance Discussion; New Reviews

Here’s the “Twitter transcript” of Sydney Theatre Company’s first Night With The Actors event on 13 April. Cast members Hugo Weaving, Tom Budge, Sarah Peirse and Bruce Spence sat for a Q & A session following that evening’s performance.

And here are quotes from reviews that have appeared since my last entry. They continue to be uniformly ecstatic. As always, I recommend clicking the links for the full texts at sites of origin, particularly if you want more background about the play. Since no new performance photos have appeared (you can see the full batch of Lisa Tomasetti’s photos that have been posted in reviews here) I’ll intersperse some fan photos.

Jo Litson, Sunday Telegraph and jolitson.com: “The Beckett Estate is famously rigid, requiring productions to stick to the letter of Beckett’s very specific stage directions. Upton and set designer Nick Schlieper have come up with an imposing, monumental staging that abides more or less faithfully with Beckett’s requirements but makes for a far more threatening space than a bare, grey-lit room…

Weaving is in masterful form as Hamm. Legs tied and wearing opaque glasses, his face and arms, and even his tongue at one point, are wonderfully expressive but it’s his extraordinarily eloquent voice that mesmerises, so full of different textures, tones and sounds: velvety one minute, snarling the next. His Hamm is a tyrant but with a jaunty, fruity presence and a wry sense of humour. It’s a compelling performance.

Budge’s performance is all about body language. Bent-over, he performs with a robustly comical physicality. The way he removes the sheet covering Hamm, or climbs the ladder, or interacts with Hamm, suggests well-oiled routines he has developed over time to fill the endless, empty days, while his attempt to get rid of a flea in his pants is priceless…

Endgame is almost unbearably bleak but at the same time surprisingly funny. Upton and his fine cast find that balance perfectly in an engrossing, lively, moving production.”


“Very excited to see Endgame at the Sydney Theatre Company!…” Sophie Morgan via Instagram

Catherine McNamara, Concrete Playground: “Andrew Upton’s Endgame is beautiful Beckett. Inasmuch as it invites us to wallow in the great fear and inertia of existence for 110 minutes, till we’re asking (along with main character Hamm), ‘Is it not time for my pain killer?’… In my mind, the true wonder of Endgame is the humour that punctuates the pain. The misery is a given, the moments of light and childish hope are the miracle…

Even if revelling in the cyclical despair of the universe isn’t your thing, see Endgame for the sheer display of vocal and physical prowess of the actors. Hugo Weaving as Hamm is immobile from the shoulders down but brings his character to life with wild acrobatics of the voice and face. It is beautiful to hear a master actor tasting language, as if he has forgotten how words are supposed to work, so syllables surprise and fly out unmeasured. He nails the harshness and fragility of Hamm, his constant contradictions and reneging…

Endgame pokes fun at the ‘game of theatre’, with its eternal status struggles and fabrications of time and space. At times Weaving assumes the role of the brooding poet, sending up the agony of creative genius. He evaluates his own monologues and frets the passing of time. He sits, in a weathered throne, in a forgotten castle, in the depths of the earth. A tyrant of emptiness; his kingdom an immense void…

It is worth going along just to see these wonderful actors present a theatre-changing text. In every corner of this uneventful endgame is a comment on life and society. Beckett’s text is quick, captivating and efficient. And at the ‘end’ he’s having the laugh on us. We’re accustomed to momentous things happening in the theatre, but in this world, if you’re crying, you’re still alive.


“Thank you STC for ticking another Beckett play off my bucket list. Brilliant. Superb. I am in awe.” Rachael Belle Myers via Twitter/Instagram

Larry Heath, The AU Review: “Directed by Andrew Upton, who also directed Godot with Weaving, has done a fine job of bringing Beckett’s well known text to live. The set design by Nick Schlieper is exquisite: the sense that they are deep in the basement of a castle-like structure is well achieved – the building seems to go on forever, while the all important windows on either side give the sense of the nothingness that apparently exists beyond those walls…

Weaving’s performance is astonishing and he holds the show together – just as the role requires of him. Given he is confined to a rolling chair, the range (and tongue) he’s able to convey just reaffirms how great of an actor he is. There’s not a moment that goes by in the one act play – which comes in to just under two hours – that you’re not compelled by his performance. And that’s down to, almost solely, his voice. As he jumps between philosopher, psycophant and borderline psychopath, his Hamm is theatrical brilliance. Costume Designer Renée Mulder has done a great job at adding to Hamm’s eccentricities, and with Hugo as Associate Director of the production, he would have added more than enough of his own take on Hamm’s situation to truly embody this typically absurd character…

Endgame in its very nature is a dark tale, with the cruelty of Hamm’s character and the rather depressing state of his bin-dwelling parents (pictured above) serving to create an overarching sense of despair to the whole affair. But Upton, Weaving and the cast have done well to balance that with slapstick, typical absurdist humour and performances which seem just over-the-top enough to keep the element of fantasy in the air, while never limiting the power or effect of any scene. A tightrope they walk with skill and care… Endgame in its very nature is a dark tale, with the cruelty of Hamm’s character and the rather depressing state of his bin-dwelling parents (pictured above) serving to create an overarching sense of despair to the whole affair. But Upton, Weaving and the cast have done well to balance that with slapstick, typical absurdist humour and performances which seem just over-the-top enough to keep the element of fantasy in the air, while never limiting the power or effect of any scene. A tightrope they walk with skill and care.”


STC’s posters for the production   Photos: Yvette Wan via Twitter

Ian Dickson, Australian Book Review: “Hamm is often played as a bullying, tormenting and tormented despot, but that is only a part of him. Weaving’s Hamm is wonderfully fantastical. Denied the use of his eyes and legs, he makes the most of his arms, hands, and marvellously expressive fingers, stabbing the air with them or fluttering them like the ripples on a lake. Even his tongue gets a moment in the spotlight. But it is the glorious Weaving voice that truly commands the stage. From sonorous boom to almost whisper, he coaxes every ounce of poetry from the text without ever seeming ‘poetic’. He initiates the often played routines sometimes with relish and at others almost in spite of himself. At the few moments when the anguish that he tries to keep at bay surfaces, he is shattering. This is a great performance and a pinnacle of Weaving’s distinguished career…

If Tom Budge’s Clov is an Ariel figure he is a grotesque misshapen one. Surprisingly eschewing the stiff staggering walk Beckett specifies in the script, Budge skitters around the stage like a hunched over Nosferatu. Less bitter than most Clovs, there is an innocence about him which Weaving’s Hamm gleefully exploits, but when he does erupt he is momentarily formidable. He expertly juggles the huge ladder which he uses to peer out of the high windows, and his routine with the flea powder he uses on himself is a splendid piece of clowning…

An artist for whom the verbs to create and to fail were synonymous, Beckett was surprisingly positive about the original French version of the piece and it remained a favorite work for the rest of his life. This production does him proud… Now messrs Upton and Weaving, can we have Krapp’s Last Tape please?”


STC virtual banner ad, featuring James Green promo portrait of Hugo

STC Endgame Performance Photos & Reviews; Hugo Weaving ABC 7.30 Interview


Hugo Weaving as Hamm in STC’s Endgame   Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

Now that Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Endgame has officially opened, we’re getting a veritable onslaught of new reviews and performance pics. The reviews have been almost 100% ecstatic… the only quibbles (from one Stage Whispers review) were about Samuel Beckett’s restrictions on how the play may be performed; they praised the acting. (The actors in both Australian productions of Endgame have said that the limitations are part of the point, not something they feel overly confined by. In fact, Hugo and others have expressed that one’s true creativity often comes out under such limitations.)

So far over 20 performance images by Lisa Tomasetti have appeared in conjunction with the reviews. (So far STC has only shared one via Facebook/Instagram, but this may change soon.) I’ll post a compilation of review excerpts interspersed with these amazing photos, with the recommendation readers click on the links and read each review in full at the site of origin, as most are very thoughtfully written, and I haven’t seen such unanimous praise for such a notoriously challenging, bleak play. But first I gotta embed Hugo’s new video interview promoting the production on ABC’s 7.30, given from the STC set (even using Hamm’s ratty armchair).  It’s about 7 minutes long and delightful. Naturally people are grabbing hold of Hugo’s hedging comments about giving up acting and retreating to Dungog to raise vegetables and taking them out of context… but fans will remember Hugo has often said such things before when working through a particularly tough schedule of projects and immediately acknowledges he’d probably be itching to work again soon if he did take an extended break. (And he is DUE an extended break.) 😉

Also: some lovely observations on the challenges of Endgame, the benefits of acting, and how acting differs from “pulling faces”, a distinction many people in the business have yet to figure out. And the truth behind the Agent Smith vocal performance which, for the 800th time, was NOT inspired by Carl Sagan. (Please stop repeating this nonsense, Twitter trolls. I mean it.) 😉


ABC 7.30

ABC has helpfully provided a full transript of this interview both on 7.30’s website and at their Radio National site.

A few of my screencaps:

Here are those review quotes along with Lisa Tomasetti’s splendid performance photos (which appeared via STC Facebook, Suzy Goes See, The Guardian, STC’s Endgame supplemental materials and Time Out.)

Richard Parkin, The Guardian: “More than just a formal experiment Endgame is also a searing examination of the human condition, and it is here that this production earns its plaudits. At the heart of Hugo Weaving’s commanding performance as Vladimir in STC’s 2013 production of Waiting for Godot was the human affection he and Richard Roxburgh conjured from Beckett’s infamous tramps. Beckett and love are not two words lightly thrown together, and yet it is the nuanced subtlety and deep emotional energy shared between Weaving as Hamm, and Tom Budge’s Clov that give this production its frisson…

An even darker and more constricted world than Vladimir and Estragon’s, in Endgame Weaving’s Hamm sits front and centre – an ailing tyrant – reminiscent of an ancient world Eastern potentate with toque and gaff for crown and sceptre, clinging to his vanity and worth as the world around him declines… Weaving shines. Despite Hamm’s brutality towards his parents, he still inspires pathos through his flights of grandeur, his lugubrious grasp of loss and his fleeting moments of tenderness for Clov…

Yet it is Budge’s performance that ties this production together. The sheer pain of existence is etched deep into this physical performance, while his resilience and gallows humour provides the perfect foil to Hamm, redeeming him with his love, and allowing Weaving the full gamut of expression…

With Weaving also wearing the assistant director’s hat, it’s apparent the sensibility that he and director Andrew Upton brought to Waiting for Godot is back. And the very humanity of Beckett’s crippled characters is put at the forefront, inviting us all to reflect on the love, power and hurt that binds us together.”


Tom Budge as Clov and Hugo Weaving as Hamm in STC’s Endgame.  All performance photos: Lisa Tomasetti  

Maxim Boon, Limelight: “Fortunately Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Director Andrew Upton and his deftly assembled cast, led by Hugo Weaving, have achieved an account of Endgame that is wrought with an albeit subtle, yet palpably insightful originality…

Very little here to laugh about, it may seem. However, Beckett’s dialogue, which mixes short, superficially mundane, perfunctory exchanges with bizarre anecdotes, sudden outbursts, incongruously silly gags and simple questions drenched in horrid significance, is full of comic potential. The shear strangeness of Beckett’s surreal scenario yields up humour, sometimes subtle, sometimes pitched at the level of a pantomime. The tangibility of this hinges on the chemistry between this darkly funny play’s two central protagonists, and Upton has happened upon a very successful alchemy in the pairing of Budge and Weaving…

Weaving’s Hamm is erratic, vicious, spiteful and crazed, but also saccharine, flamboyant, sentimental and heartbreakingly frail. When certain lines are repeated, they are deliberately delivered as a verbatim replica of the original, as if these words have been uttered this way, over and over, time and time again like a record stuck in a groove. Despite Beckett bestowing paralysis and blindness on this character, Weaving is a colossal presence extracting an astonishingly rich spectrum of emotional extremities to the point of bathos. While Budge’s Clov doesn’t cover anywhere near the same emotional ground, his simpering, knock-kneed, part-jester-part-Caliban delivery is deeply endearing and makes an ideal foil for Weaving’s more shaded and dominate performance.”

Jason Blake, The Sydney Morning Herald: “Andrew Upton’s grandly scaled production finds that balance more often than not: the humour is accessible, yet the cruelty in it stings; the pace is brisk without feeling pushed; it is bang-for-your-buck visually impressive (for $115 a seat, you deserve some eye candy, even if it’s of the bleakest stripe), and Hugo Weaving, the production’s drawcard, is in masterful form…

Beckett denies the actor of his Hamm the use of his eyes as well as legs, which makes the voice of vital importance. Weaving responds to the challenge magnificently with an impeccably enunciated repertoire of stagey growls, tempestuous barks, velvety grandiloquence and wheezy resignation. There’s plenty of salty old ham in this Hamm (at one point, his tongue makes a showstopping appearance and it’s all you can do not to give it a round of applause) but there’s humanity, too…

Tom Budge’s shaved-headed, mechanically jerky Clov operates in a fraction of that vocal range, but makes up for it with his agility (despite being bent into a question mark) and the finesse in his clowning. His powdering of an unwelcome flea in his pants is slapstick at its finest… Playing decrepit parents Nell and Nagg Hamm, Sarah Peirse and Bruce Spence rear up from their rubbish bins like bewildered undead. Peirse’s voice is exquisite. Spence’s face, caked in cracked white, is priceless. Together, they strike the most touching notes in a production that walks you securely to the edge of the Beckettian abyss but never quite leans you over it.”

John McCallum, The Australian: “You can play this apocalyptic drama, with its slow slide towards death and finality, for the unhappiness and yearning for an end that the characters keep expressing, and the result can be a very bleak experience. What makes this production so successful is that it is played with a kind of luscious exuberance. We are watching the enthusiastic childlike games of old people trapped in an impossibly grim situation…

The playing style here is full of relish and is often very funny. Weaving’s acting has seldom been better, as he throws himself with apparent delight into each new futile game, joke or story. His hands, arms and face, the only means of expression Hamm has left, move constantly, flailing and grimacing desperately against the dying of the light…

Upton’s production, with Weaving as associate director, does brilliant work with this rich, multi-layered script. It is a myth that nothing happens in Beckett’s plays. Here there is not a line that is not pointed, not a reference that is not hinted at, not an action that does not move us forward…

Forward towards nothingness, of course: that is the point. But as in all of Beckett’s writing nothingness never quite comes. There is just that infinitesimal dwindling. If nothingness ever did arrive then we, or the characters, would be dead. And we can never experience that. That is the final spark of optimism in all his work.”


Hugo Weaving and Tom Budge with Sarah Peirse (as Nell)

Martin Portus, Stage Whispers: “This is truly the endgame of life and Weaving plays out the repeated stories, word games and deadpan humour like a real fruity-voiced thespian, a connoisseur of impending mortality working away his busy fingers like a mad Steptoe…

Director Andrew Upton though has elicited fine performances, including from Bruce Spence and Sarah Peirse as the parents.  Here is some relief. Caked in clay, zombie-like but with dark ringed eyes flashing, their Nagg and Nell still share a demented humanity – even if it is now legless and binned.”


Hugo Weaving, Sarah Peirse and Bruce Spence (as Nagg)

Ashley Walker, Australian Stage Online: “Endgame is a brooding and unsentimental meditation on the nature of death. I’ve never heard so much silence in a theatre production. Beckett, who was Irish, wrote all his plays in French forcing himself to concentrate on every word in order to achieve economy of language. It is ten to fifteen minutes, before the first words are spoken. The silence in a jam packed the Roslyn Packer Theatre on opening night, adds to the absurd atmosphere of the production…

Hugo Weaving gives an enchanting performance as Hamm. It is worth closing your eyes for ten minutes just to let his voice wash over you. Voice plays a bigger part in conveying character than usual in the role of Hamm. Hamm sits in his wheelchair the entire time, so it is credit to weaving that he can still command a stage presence while sitting down. Budge remains stooped, as he moves about the stage, speaking in a nervous high pitched tone… Watching a Beckett play is an act of gradual immersion into a lonely and off kilter world.”

Suzy Wrong, Suzy Goes See: “The play is both accessible and inaccessible. It challenges the way we read, and how we make sense, in the theatrical space, of language and signs, but it does not intend to alienate. Director Andrew Upton retains the integrity of Beckett’s words, sometimes impenetrable but always marvellous, and creates around them an intoxicating live experience that fascinates at every moment. Unreservedly intellectual, it is no surprise that one can be made to feel out of their depth at times, but the work’s density constantly morphs so that a switch in tone or subject inevitably occurs, and we become engaged again, only more thoroughly than ever, as our capacities gradually grow in their level of receptiveness. Upton’s voice increases in clarity over time, and the piece gains power accordingly…

Hugo Weaving is mesmeric as the hideous and hateful Hamm. Even in a wheelchair with legs bound and eyes obscured behind opaque spectacles, the star is irresistibly charismatic, and completely enthralling. Edith Piaf was said to have declared that she could sing the phone book and make it sound great. Similarly, Weaving captivates us with every word, even when we find our minds struggling to match the depth of what is being expounded. The extreme meticulousness of his approach seizes our attention, and the wild and unpredictable flourishes he builds into every scene and stanza is truly magnificent to witness. Endgame discusses the distinctions between meaninglessness and meaningfulness. Under Weaving’s spell, all that unfolds feels meaningful, and we are encouraged to seek a cerebral equivalent to the emotional sensations delivered to our gut. Also turning in a stunning performance is Tom Budge in the role of Clov, the voluntary slave who waits on Hamm for no straightforward reason. The actor opens the play in a wordless sequence, impressing us with his extraordinary physical expression. Part mime and part dance, the beauty of his execution shines in spite of the depressively ominous context he helps set up. Budge goes on to prove himself sensitive to the needs of black comedy, constantly toying with the delicate balance between morbidity and humour, much to our twisted delight. His dynamic range is quite exceptional, and the character he creates is fascinating from every perspective…

Difficult texts must exist, or our artistic landscape is worth nothing. If everything is within one’s grasp, one ceases to evolve. Endgame is about two hours long, but it contains wisdom from entire lifetimes by several outstanding minds. This production seduces with entertaining touches and intriguing elements, then presents life’s big questions in rarely articulated ways. If its propositions are unfamiliar, revisiting them seems necessary, like a good book that engages and bewilders, it tempts you at its end, to return to the start for another bout.”

Jason Catlett, Time Out Sydney: “You’re unlikely ever to find a more enjoyable production of Samuel Beckett’s bleak absurdist drama than this one directed by Andrew Upton for the Sydney Theatre Company. As in Beckett’s earlier and far more celebrated Waiting for Godot, almost nothing happens, repeatedly. Like his later underrated Happy Days, the non-action takes place in some vaguely post-apocalyptic world inhabited by a few bored and bewildered weirdos. They reminisce incoherently, bicker and talk rubbish, doing nothing more significant than putting a handkerchief over someone’s head, or moving a ladder pointlessly from window to window. Beckett’s astonishing achievement was to write challenging and truly revolutionary plays within these apparently disqualifying constraints. The wonderful achievement of Upton and his crew here is to make that horrendous landscape of human worthlessness a delight to watch…

Clov’s wheelchair-bound master is Hamm, here played with transformative originality by Hugo Weaving. In a famous but arguably futile attempt to understand the play, the great German sociologist Theodor Adorno compared Hamm to Hamlet, even though the only obvious resemblance is in the name. On paper Hamm is an utter bastard who constantly torments not only the hapless Clov but also his parents Nagg and Nell, who dwell in the same room in matching his-and-hers garbage bins. Any resemblance to the palace at Elsinore, Horatio, Gertrude and her first husband, or to Shakespeare’s noble and flowery language, or the Prince of Denmark’s heroic dramatic situation, is strictly by stark contrast. Hamm has almost nothing to react to but the void in which he finds himself confined…

Weaving’s achievement is to animate this severely impaired non-hero as a vivacious, almost endearing master of his own universe: king of a nutshell. Fuelled by a bonfire of charisma, Weaving turns Happ’s insufferably tedious monologues into joyful entertainment… Beckett’s trick of having Hamm bribe Nagg with a lolly to listen to his stories comes off a treat thanks to the priceless spectacle of the elastic face of Bruce Spence in pancake makeup reacting to his son’s repetitive diatribes…

Beckett’s vision of human existence is so absurd that both the audience and actors are constantly tempted to throw up their hands and dismiss it as, well, absurd, but Upton’s crew manage to stick with it faithfully—almost lovingly if that’s possible—at every moment. Weaving seems to be thriving on the grimness, shrouded in his hellish armchair on casters, despite the constant fear that Clov will leave him helpless. Beckett’s carefully constructed machine runs smooth and clear, notwithstanding its outward appearance of a rickety contraption. The STC has done a great service to a masterpiece that is at risk of being overlooked or dismissed as a second rate specimen from a period of theatre that has lost relevance to today. They have made it fresh, stylish, and even fun.”

Theatrebloggers, Dinner And A Show: “This could well be one of Andrew Upton’s finest productions. Nick Schlieper’s confined set design, equipped with dripping and reflected water keeps to Beckett’s original intention without falling into the overly familiar. Together the two have created some striking imagery. Endgame is not a play for the lighthearted, though, and without a strong cast the piece would be unbearably tedious. But Hugo Weaving has successfully made this one of the ‘not to be missed’ productions of the year…

Weaving is simply masterful in the role of Hamm; he is cruel and selfish, bound to a chair, unable to stand. Hamm has lost the use of his eyes and for the actor, it is a hard slog. However, you wouldn’t know this with Mr Weaving at the helm. Aided by only voice and gesture, Weaving commands the stage from his immobile position, no small feat. In a word, his performance is faultless as he weaves through the dialogue with effortless musicality, each syllable ringing in our ears, bringing the lyricism of Beckett to life. This is Shakespeare for the existentialist, and Weaving is in fine if not perfect form…

If there was ever a moment to get acquainted with Beckett then it would be now, when a seasoned cast is able to do justice to this challenging piece. This isn’t easy viewing, Beckett demands a lot of his audience, but this is an occasion where the rewards are well worth the effort.”

Chris Hook, The Daily Telegraph: “About 18 months ago, Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Andrew Upton helmed a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot starring Hugo Weaving with Richard Roxburgh…  To say it was a success is something of an understatement — the piece attracted international attention and was invited to a Beckett festival in London later this year. But the production also marked a period of extensive investigation of Beckett’s work by Weaving, which has now born more theatrical fruit in a production of Beckett’s 1957 play Endgame, again with Upton directing. And what a rich harvest it is…

Beckett was understood to have been a fan of vaudeville and this influence underlines much of what is said and the way it is delivered. Each conversation (and actions, such as they are) unfolds as a “bit” in the comedic sense of the word, the sentences flying back and forth until the jousting is done and we move on to the next exchange. Routine is how the characters pass the time, and also what they deliver…

‘What is there to keep me here?’ asks Clov at one point. ‘The dialogue of course,’ Hamm replies. It’s what keeps all of us there, because Endgame is strangely, discomfortingly, hugely funny. The performances are extraordinary, even by this cast’s own somewhat elevated standards…

The heavy lifting is really done by Clov and Hamm and their dynamic is sublime, Budge’s Clov the ideal foil to Weaving’s pompous cruelty as Hamm, who doesn’t miss a beat as he regally dispatches orders and insults, between carrying on with his myriad monologues about what we’re never quite sure. Even sitting in rags, dirty with an unkempt beard and unbecoming head and eyewear, Weaving’s presence is imposing; so regal; his decrepit chair is akin to a throne…

It’s not an easy journey at almost two hours without a break, but Endgame is such a complete theatrical experience that there is a huge sense of having been through something and come out the other side — and being all the more illuminated for it.”

Ben Neutze, Daily Review: “Beckett is relentless in his focus and detail, creating epic dramatic worlds out of the most restricted elements. Endgame takes much of what Beckett explored in Waiting for Godot and ruthlessly strips the drama and comedy back to its core. For my money, Endgame is the more accomplished work… There’s still plenty of currency in the tiny glimpses of humanity which emerge as his all-too recognisable characters are staring into an abyss of destruction. Even amongst Beckett’s work, Endgame stands out for how well it encapsulates the human experience of boredom and purposelessness..

But the thing about Endgame is that it’s hysterically funny if it’s done well, to the point that it never feels like too hard a slog despite its almost two hour running time. This production gets plenty of hearty laughter, and there didn’t seem to be much restlessness in the opening night audience. It’s not because there’s a particular comedic approach taken by anybody on or offstage, or any attempt to dumb the material down or inject it with crowd-pleasing action, but because it’s all played for truth, and played damn well. One of the most well-known quotes from the play (and the one adorning STC’s publicity material for this production) is ‘nothing is funnier than unhappiness’, and this production dwells in the darkest possible darkness, and feels more energetic and alive for it…

Hugo Weaving is brilliantly cast as Hamm, delivering a performance which is at once technical and detailed, focusing on the minutiae of his character’s experience, while embracing the broad emotional sweep of the play. The vocal lines he draws through Beckett’s words are engrossing and musical enough that you could simply shut your eyes and listen…

Over the course of his artistic directorship at STC, Andrew Upton, who directs this production, has proven himself to be particularly adept at drawing nuanced and passionate performances from actors (or at least creating a space that allows those performances to develop and grow) and creating “faithful”, but lively productions of fine plays. His Endgame is no exception, with just a few personal touches which create new resonances… Endgame is actually not staged all that often in Australia, probably due to its reputation as being an impenetrable work. Upton’s production proves how profound, fresh and, dare I say, accessible the play can still be within the restrictions which the Beckett enforces.”

STC has compiled an impressive batch of educational resources in conjunction with this production, and made all of it available in PDF form via their website. In addition to exclusive photos of the production and rehearsals (including the Nicholas Harding sketch below), you’ll find scholarly background on the playwright (and an explanation of his copyright controls), production posters and study questions. You can find the lot here. You can read STC’s compilaton of fan feedback from social media on Storify.


Hugo Weaving as Hamm in a rehearsal sketch by Nicholas Harding; from STC’s resource materials


All performance photos: Lisa Tomasetti/Sydney Theatre Co

STC shared this amusing Gif animation of Hugo as Hamm, taken from James Green’s promo photos:


STC Instagram

In Other Hugo Weaving News

Healing will be screened at Le Festival du Bout du Monde in France early next month. For additional details, go here.

Don McAlpine, cinematographer for The Dressmaker, spoke to about Australian Cinematographers Society this film and his larger career; includes photos from the set.

I’ll keep an eye out for any new Endgame reviews or performance images and share any I find here as soon as possible. I’m thinking of adding a few fan images as well. Tickets are still available for both STC Endgame and the Barbican remounting of Waiting For Godot… I can’t make it to either (wrong continent) but fans with the resources should definitely hop to it. 😉

STC Endgame: 2 New Hugo Weaving Interviews, New Pics & Trailer; Strangerland Heading to SFF In June

We’ve had a veritable onslaught of wonderful new material in conjunction with Sydney Theatre Co’s production of Endgame (starring Hugo Weaving, Tom Budge, Sarah Peirse and Bruce Spence) which is open in previews. (Official opening night is 8 April.) The Guardian and The Sydney Morning Herald both published interviews featuring Hugo. I’ll embed both pieces in full because they’re well worth a read. The whole of the new material is also nicely timed to coincide with Hugo’s 55th birthday, though Hugo himself will “celebrate” with a marathon Saturday of two Endgame performances, and thus probably be too tired to take notice of our celebration. 😉

But first, here’s STC’s new trailer for the production, featuring Hugo and Tom Budge. Short but sweet, featuring that irrepressible laugh we’ve loved all these years:


Sydney Theatre Co, via YouTube

Here are a few caps I made:

EndgameTeaser2.png

And here are the two new interviews featuring Hugo; the Guardian’s piece is particularly well-done, and includes comments from Luke Mullins, who’s currently playing Clov in MTC’s rival production of Endgame, and who’ll reteam with Hugo, Richard Roxburgh and Philip Quast for Beckett’s Waiting For Godot at London’s Barbican in a couple of months. I particularly appreciate the fact that questions and answers are included rather than being paraphrased the way some articles do it (including the SMH piece)… Being the context freak I am. 😉 No new images with the Guardian article, but if you head to the website and click on the image of Hugo (one of James Green’s nice promo images from last year) you’ll get a high-res enlargement.

Hugo Weaving: ‘Beckett has the most amazing sense of humour’
Appearing in concurrent productions of Endgame in Sydney and Melbourne, former co-stars Hugo Weaving and Luke Mullins talk about their forthcoming reunion in Waiting for Godot in London

Interview by Nancy Groves

What is the collective noun for Samuel Beckett plays? Australia certainly needs to find one, with five productions playing across the country in the first half of 2015 alone, following the Helpmann award-winning success of Andrew Upton’s Waiting for Godot.

Two of Godot’s co-stars are currently appearing in separate productions of Endgame: Hugo Weaving as Hamm for Sydney Theatre Company and Luke Mullins as Clov for Melbourne Theatre Company. The pair met to talk about the playwright’s enduring appeal and their forthcoming reunion in Godot for the Barbican’s International Beckett Season.

How do you look back at Sydney’s Waiting for Godot a year on?
Hugo Weaving: Godot was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life. With Beckett, the psychological reality isn’t necessarily there in the rehearsal room. So it’s very hard for you as an actor to guess what’s going to be there for the audience.

Luke Mullins: Yes. It wasn’t really until we got in front of them that we knew what it was. I think until you have an audience you can’t feel what Beckett’s doing. Godot isn’t made according to a normal narrative or plot. It’s driven by experience.

HW: And the same is true of Endgame, if not more so, because of the physical restrictions, I suspect. Certainly from my point of view playing Hamm; maybe not from Luke’s as Clov in Melbourne – I can’t stand and he can’t sit! And Hamm is blind too. The hardest thing is the glasses. The ones I wear aren’t sunglasses – they’ve been painted out. That has a massive effect on my brain and the way I read information.

If it’s such hard work, why sign up for more Beckett?

LM: Because so many of his pieces are just these exquisitely written, perfect objects. It’s incredibly satisfying to have such a clear set of instructions to follow that if you do follow them – not so much obey, but really follow – it’s creating something you couldn’t otherwise do as an actor.

HW: I totally agree. He’s incredibly restrictive in one way, in terms of form. The music and structure of the piece is very clear. If you veer from that to any great extent, you’re in big trouble. But when you do find your own lives within that form, then it can be a very joyful experience. Beckett has the most amazing sense of humour. All his writing is infused with it. I remember the first Godot preview was such a relief – hearing the audience laugh.

LM: I remember it too. It was the shock: “My god, it works!” It was thrilling.

What is the director’s role in a Beckett rehearsal room?

LM: The main task for Sam [Strong, director at Melbourne Theatre Company] is keeping everyone on track with what the play is and creating a room where, collaboratively, we can work out the detail and the music. Humour in theatre often feels like jazz where you can riff on stuff. Sam’s approach to Beckett is like a piece of classical music where we strictly follow the score. Listen to two versions of the same classical piece and they can be incredibly different in nuance. That’s been Sam’s guiding approach.

HW: There is a genius in Beckett that Andrew [Upton, at Sydney] really appreciates as a writer himself. We’ve had fun in rehearsal talking about particular lines: how one line can be inherently amusing in the way it sits on the page or the way it comes out of your mouth. And that’s something we all share. There’s absolutely nothing dictatorial about Andrew. He just watches and listens and observes until a keen sense comes through of how the pauses should play.

Do you ever feel the need to lighten things up?

HW: I don’t find Beckett heavy. I find him very, very difficult – and he’s serious. At the same time, there’s so much vaudeville. That, and classical French theatre, were his two great influences. You can’t play with Beckett without a series of groupings: in Godot, two people and two people. In Endgame, two people and then the bins. There’s great enjoyment in finding those routines. Really, we’ve been laughing a lot.

I don’t think if you revere Beckett and put his plays on a pedestal, they work. You can’t do productions like that. They are deadly, deadly boring and Beckett would have hated them.

LM: I think it’s very true what Hugo says. There’s so much written academically about Beckett but in the end, he stopped writing novels and started writing theatre for a reason. To those who say, “Will I understand it? What does it mean? I don’t get it” – I think it’s kind of the wrong question to be asking. From watching and working on these plays, the question for me is: what is happening between us on stage? And for the audience: what is happening to me? Only then do the plays have an effect.

HW: We don’t expect a poet to clarify things for a reader. The job of a poet is to suggest certain things. So I don’t think meaning should come into it.

“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” – was Beckett right?

LM: You can take that line in Endgame as a reminder from Beckett that his plays do have humour, or are meant to have humour. It’s not about rolling in self-pity. So I think it’s a wonderful instruction as to how to approach his work.

HW: His characters are all down on their luck. Real oddballs. Hypochondriacs. And they don’t believe in much at all. But they’re pretty resilient and kind of funny, I think. Funny, because they keep pushing on in the face of unbelievable misery and all sorts of physical ailments. Problems with the bladder, problems with smelly feet. All quite comedic unless you’re the person who has them.

Beckett writes about real people in shitty shitty situations who keep going. And there’s something human about that. They alleviate their boredom and routine with funny little things to entertain themselves. We all tend to do that in our lives.

How does it feel to be remounting Godot in London later this year?

HW: Terrifying and exhausting.

LM: It already hurts to think about it.

HW: We’ve got something like four or five days of rehearsals here in Sydney before we go to London. The remount is a re-trusting in each other. Trust that the intervening year-and-a-half has added something rather than diminished what we’ve done before. It’s pretty scary. It’s a huge play and very easy to get lost in it. We’ll really need to be on our mettle.

What is the main draw for London audiences: you or Beckett?

HW: I would hope Beckett is the draw. He certainly is for me. I think there is an increased interest in Beckett. He was of his time and he’s been revered (and misunderstood) in all sorts of wrong ways since. Perhaps we’re starting to be excited by him in the right way now – being able to read and enjoy his pieces without putting them on a pedestal.

How would you persuade people turned off by Samuel Beckett – or indifferent – to see these plays?

HW: If they’re indifferent, don’t come!

LM: I would say to anyone interested in the theatre, or who’s ever even thought about going to the theatre, that you must want to see a Beckett. You must! You can’t miss that experience. Also, that there is no appropriate response. Whatever is happening to you, is happening. As long as something is, then it’s working.

Melbourne Theatre Company’s Endgame is at Southside theatre until 25 April. Sydney Theatre Company’s Endgame is at Rosalind Packer theatre until 9 May. Waiting for Godot is at Barbican, London from 4-13 June as part of the International Beckett Season 2015″

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Here’s the print version of the Sydney Morning Herald piece, a joint interview between Hugo Weaving and Andrew Upton. The online version has identical text (by Lenny Ann Low) but each version has unique photos, all by Nic Walker, Unfortunately, the SMH has somewhat marred a great interview and photos by turning the images– which more than speak for themselves– into poorly-rendered quote memes with ugly text covering key parts of the image. If I were the photographer I’d find this somewhat insulting, and it also takes comments that beg to be coyly misinterpreted out of their proper context. Real journalists should stick to publishing quotes in their proper context and leave great photos like these unblemished. I ALWAYS credit photographers, as do all thoughtful fans… this sort of proprietary-meme stuff is juvenile and condescending, both to the interviewees and to readers. Leave the quote-memes to the fans, SMH. They do a better job of it.

Also: can we please banish the word “bromance” from all articles about serious articles about male collaborators/friends? This became tiresome during the run of the McKellen-Stewart Godot on Broadway, and I’m even more sick of it now. Though it is heartening to hear Hugo apparently has never heard the word before (or finds it trite to the point he plays dumb.) 😉


And if you’re a bit peeved that pic of Weaving & Upton was chopped in half between pages, never fear:

Photos: Nic Walker for the Sydney Morning Herald

Here are the Nic Walker photos that appeared in the online version of the piece, with my “enhancements” 😉


All four images: Nic Walker/Sydney Morning Herald

I do want to emphasize that I really enjoyed the interview and photos for the SMH article; it’s more the “marketing” I object to. Kudos to both interviewers for staying on topic and provoking interesting answers in each case.

The Sydney Morning Herald also posted a nice Andrew Upton/Sam Strong interview by Elissa Blake. (Strong directs the MTC production of Endgame and previously directed Hugo in STC’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses a few years back.) This piece features a Lisa Tomasetti rehearsal photo (previously seen on STC Facebook… and here) and a few more of Uptons thoughs on why casting Hugo was a “no-brainer” :  “There’s authority and frailty in Hamm but he’s also a showman. Hugo has the kind of voice that can shape that for you. And there’s also something we discovered while we were doing Godot; a wickedness to his clowning, a glint in the eye. You’re not just watching Hamm screw Clov down for two hours. That would be unbearable. Hugo brings a kind of joy to it.” I have to admit I’m curious as to why Blake wasn’t given the assignment of interviewing Hugo as well, given how magnificently she’s done so in the past, even providing unedited transcripts in some cases. (Aaaaah, context!)

Strangerland

After being treated somewhat condescendingly by the hipsters at Sundance, Hugo Weaving’s next film Strangerland gets its nex big showcase on much more hospitable turf with a screening at his year’s Sydney Film Festival in June. Dates haven’t been announced, but I’m desperately hoping they can avoid a conflict with the London run of Godot, because Hugo usually attends the SFF whether he has a film on view or not. There have been over a dozen press announcements about SFF’s initial slate of showcased films, including in FilmInk, Cinema Australia and Twitch Film; most simply repeat the text from SFF’s website blurb:

“Nicole Kidman makes a welcome return to Australian independent cinema in this striking film. The teenage children of Catherine (Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) mysteriously disappear from the outback town the family has recently settled in. When local cop Rae (Hugo Weaving) tries to solve the case, he uncovers a dark history with repercussions for him too.”

Screen Australia tweeted our first official film still featuring Hugo:

So far the Australian press vibe for the film is very positive. Unfortunately, the SFF’s dates (June 3-14) are almost precisely the same as the London run of Godot (June 4-13), so barring an opening or closing night screening (unlikely travel time would even permit that), we may be out of luck in terms of new premiere photos. Though I’m sure Hugo couldn’t be happier about “having” to skip a red-carpet event. 😉

In Other Hugo Weaving News

Hugo’s second film to open in 2015 (scheduled for 1 October in Australia) will have a tie-in reissue of Rosalie Ham’s novel released 11 August. No cover art is yet available, but they are taking pre-orders at Amazon.

The website Home Theatre Forum announced that Anchor Bay is planning a US DVD release for Healing on 9 June, which is welcome news, though I’d be a bit sad if the film entirely skipped a theatrical run here. (Not surprised, though, unfortunately.) I am hoping the alleged cover art seen on the site (to horrifying to cross-post here) is NOT the design they eventually go with. This might be the worst photoshop composite I’ve ever seen, and Hugo is unrecognizable. Not only has his beard been clumsily CG’d away, he seems to have been age-regressed. Let’s hope this is only spec art… the film deserves much better.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HUGO!  🙂