The Daily Telegraph
March 22, 2018
Hugo Weaving at the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney where he will make his role debut as Arturo Ui in Bertolt Brecht’s 1941 gangster tale, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. , who is going to be in a play called The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, today. Picture: Justin Lloyd
AS Hugo Weaving poured himself into the role of a big-city gangster during rehearsals at Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre this week, someone was closely observing the actor from the dark.
Artist Nicholas Harding was there to sketch his friend’s transformation into the title role of Bertolt Brecht’s play The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui.
“Hugo as Ui displays the characteristically dynamic range he brings to a performance,” Harding says.
“There’s menace, humour and charm in spirited abundance.”
Harding’s drawings starkly depict Weaving’s progression from “small-time hood to malevolent demagogue”.
In one drawing, Weaving is defiantly dressed in his underwear. In another, he points a gun straight at us. There’s grim intensity in all the drawings by Harding, who won the 2001 Archibald Prize with a portrait of another renowned Australian actor, John Bell.
As for Weaving, his friend’s drawings allow him to see himself from another perspective during the crucial weeks when the actor is working his way into a character — especially one he has never played before, such as Ui.
Weaving and Harding met while they were just being dads at the inner-city school their kids attended.
Having become friends, they and their partners started taking holidays together including a 2014 trip to Sicily, the traditional home of the Mafia whose members would infiltrate many American cities.
Arturo Ui is a prototype Mafioso who sets up a deadly but lucrative protection racket within Chicago’s cauliflower trade. Brecht wrote the play in 1941 as a warning that a civilised society is only as strong as the individuals supporting it.
Brecht was born in Germany, but fled the country in 1933 in the face of Hitler’s rapid rise to power and infamy.
“Brecht was absolutely writing about the problem that Hitler was posing to democracy and the world at the time,” Weaving says.
“But at the same time he loved American gangster films and (Charlie) Chaplin movies, and there were a lot of influences on him, Shakespeare as well.
“What we’ve done is to take the essence of the story and just put it in ‘the city’, so it’s not set in Chicago.
“It’s set in a contemporary city which is probably Sydney but we don’t call it Sydney.”
The play, as translated and adapted by playwright Tom Wright and directed by STC artistic director Kip Williams, references “all sorts of people”, Weaving says.
“There are lines here and there which will make it very obvious when they’re said who and what they might be referencing, but it’s not any one particular person.”
The 11-member cast includes Peter Carroll, Mitchell Butel, Anita Hegh and Ursula Yovich, all of whom will speak with Australian accents.
Weaving says Brecht’s play is a reminder of the urgent need for resistance in the face of threats symbolised by thugs and standover men like Ui.
It shows “how easy it is for democratic institutions to be dismantled and how easy it is to get threatened and decide not to do anything about it”, he says.
The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui, Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay; until April 28, $99-$120, sydneytheatre.com.au