Great Scot! Huges tackles the murderous Macbeth in a bold new production that puts the audience on the stage and the ensemble in the auditorium
Anyone who has seen Hugo Weaving on stage knows that he’s a bit of a livewire, all limbs and barely contained energy. Off stage, he’s far more laidback; yes, there’s the height and the penetrating blue eyes – and the sneaking suspicion he’d make a convincing homicidal Scottish warlord. That said, he’s still relatively unassuming.
In fact, he’s downright relaxed (and jet-lagged) when Time Out catches him at the Wharf on a chilly June morning. He’s just back from holidays in Sicily; he’s a few days into rehearsals for ‘the Scottish play’, and so only at the read-through stage; and with the gruelling experience of Godot months behind him (besides his Sicily stint, he’s also filmed Strangerland with Nicole Kidman in the time since), he can look down the barrel of a ten-week season at Sydney Theatre with relative nonchalance. “I’ll lose lots of weight,” he laughs. “I’ll sweat a lot and get fit.”
Weaving’s first Macbeth was a 1982 production directed by Richard Wherrett. “I was just out of drama school – I was 22,” he says. John Bell was the star, Robyn Nevin was Lady Mac, and Colin Friels, Peter Carroll and Heather Mitchell were in supporting roles. Weaving was Seyton, Macbeth’s lieutenant.
“I dunno that it was the greatest production in the world,” he demurs, “but it’s such an extraordinary play. It’s a play I’ve always been fascinated and horrified by – and drawn to. It’s moody, atmospheric… it’s incredible; how much of it takes place at night, how much of it takes place in a claustrophobic, whispered world; how much of it is about fear and apprehension and hallucination. It’s a very shifty world. It’s a nightmarish world – I think that’s what grabs me. It’s almost like a horror film.”
No surprise, then, that it was Roman Polanski’s Shakespeare of choice when it came to screen adaptations. But as Weaving points out, Macbeth is also one of, if not the most modern of Shakespeare’s plays, well suited to a contemporary temperament by dint of being lean and linear. “It moves at such a pace – bam bam bam,” he clicks his fingers.
Macbeth, Weaving says, is “pretty much” his favourite play – which he shares in common with Andrew Upton, who offered him the role. “We were talking about what we wanted to do in 2014. He said, what about Macbeth? I was like, ‘Yip,’” Weaving laughs. Since then, the play has been bubbling away in his mental cauldron. “I’ve read it over the years anyway, but as soon as I get a role or a script that excites me – even if it’s a couple of years away, or even if the film hasn’t got its money – I’ll be reading it or thinking about it.”
Macbeth will be directed by young STC resident director (and Upton protégé) Kip Williams, and co-star Melita Jurisic, John Gaden and Robert Menzies. “The exciting thing about this production is that we’re putting the audience on the stage and the actors in the auditorium,” says Weaving. “And there’s only eight of us. Everyone’s doubling or tripling roles except for me, so I think there’s the sense of an ensemble of actors or people telling a story and then increasingly inhabiting this story – and using the language to create this world.”
Macbeth Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay 2000. 02 9250 1999. www.sydneytheatre.org.au. $68-$119. Various days/times. Jul 21-Sep 27.