BWW REVIEW: Bertolt Brecht's THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI Is Given A Captivating Contemporary Update For Australian Audiences By Sydney Theatre Company
Saturday 7th April 2018, 7:30pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre
The ongoing cycle of corruptible power and politics plays out in Kip Williams' (Director) modern retelling of Bertolt Brecht's parable play, THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI. Originally written as a satirical allegory of Hitler's rise to power, Tom Wright's translation of the story, originally set in Chicago, is presented to highlight parallels with Australia's own history and world politics whilst using technology to help tell the story.
Williams, who has created a signature of sorts with live action video projection, presents his interpretation with an impression of simplicity to allow the focus to be on the colourful characters, presented by an exceptionally strong cast. To ensure that the audience understands that this is meant to be a lesson not a recreation of a reality the work plays predominantly within a square studio style space which designer Robert Cousins (Set Designer) has flanked by dressing spaces filled with costume racks and makeup mirrors and an artists' lounge of sorts. A large screen dominates the rear of the space to allow for the projections from the various cameras that work their way around the actors, remain constant across the stage and even suspend from the ceiling.
Whilst updated with Australian voices and Australian places, Arturo Ui (Hugo Weaving) is a dissatisfied criminal, annoyed that his name is out of the news, so has turned his sights on providing 'protection' at a price to the fresh produce market. With a bit of 'persuasion', Ui gains the support of the well-respected, seemingly morally sound, senior cabinet minister Dogborough (Peter Carroll). Ui backs up his appointment as the market's security detail with the aid of a few strategic events, blackmail and strong arming from his henchmen of Givola (Ursula Yovich), Giri (Ivan Donato), and Dockdaisy (Monica Sayers) , led by Roma (Colin Moody), to prove to the stall owners that they require his services. With a curated 'respectability', Ui is still not satisfied with the extent of his power and sets his sights even higher, adding to the body count to achieve his goals.
The well-paced production plays out over the 2 hours without interval with a series of well-marked scenes as per Brecht's original intent that information be provided by the way of text in the form of chalk on blackboard images and charcoal sketches to ensure time setting scenes is not wasted nor focus pulled from the importance of the story being told. Williams further manipulates the audience with the use of the cameras forcing the viewer to see what he wants them to see in reference to the manner in which the media distorts the public perception of what is going on. Events often unfold with backs turned to the audience with faces projected on screen looming over the live performance. Whilst Williams has employed cameras in his previous work, this time they really have a purpose in the message and the medium works well for the story.
As Ui, Hugo Weaving is compelling as the dangerous gangster with a thirst for power. He gives Ui the requisite dark oiliness with a degree of caricature to ensure that he is seen as a larger than life character in Brecht's fable. His physicality conveys the power along with his origins from the working classes, a world away from the education and poise of the powerful politicians like Dogsborough and Clark (Mitchell Butel) who he wishes to manipulate and his attempts to take on the Theatre Director's (Mitchell Butel) instructions for refinement are brilliant. He is sinister with a gravity that makes it understandable that people would comply and appear to follow because just a look was enough to know that Ui meant business.
Peter Carroll balances Dogsborough's frailty with an air of confidence which diminishes as the old man's health does. His loss of control over his life and his hard won 'respectability' is presented with a dejected acceptance that his underhand dealings with the grocery industry heavyweights has led him to the situation where Ui now has control over him. Mitchell Butel demonstrates his versatility as he takes on the roles of Clark, the member of the market Trust who gradually realises Ui isn't honorable, the Theatre Director engaged to coach Ui to respectability and the court appointed physician called in to assist in deflecting the blame of the mysterious market fire. He delivers Clark with a no-nonsense sensibility whilst his instruction on how to walk and talk is hilarious.
Williams has opted to diversify the characters from Brecht's original work with Givola, Dockdaisy and Carruthers presented by women and he has a range of ethnicities on stage, representative of the variety within the Sydney society portrayed. Yovich has a dangerous sneer as Givola and Sayers delivers the lethal blow with a cold precision whilst Anita Hegh shifts from the another member of the Market Trust, sceptical of Ui's appointment to a shell shocked pawn in Ui's plan as Betty Dullfleet after her husband is killed for standing in the power hungry thug's dreams of grocery market domination.
Retaining a relevance in the modern world, Brecht's warning about greed, power and corruption originally written around Hitler's rise, Williams ensures that the message is related to Australian and world events. Media manipulation, fabricated personalities and societies fascination with 'reality television' are all put in the spotlight along with references to the rise of reality tv star and property mogul Trump through Ui's offsider Roma bearing a red cap and Betty Dullfleet's dejected empty eyes when forced stand by Ui as he addresses the Millstream market owners is reminiscent of Melania Trump.
This is a captivating production that is both insightful and chilling in its honesty with the levels of corruption that bubbles along in the background of the manipulated smoke and mirrors of politics and market manipulation. Do not miss your chance to see this stellar cast bring Brecht into the 21st century.
Roslyn Packer Theatre