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:
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.
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.
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″
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!)
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! 🙂