A Shark Island production, in association with the Caledonia Foundation. (International sales: Shark Island Prods., Sydney.) Produced, directed by Ian Darling.
With: Cate Blanchett, Robyn Nevin, Aden Young, Hugo Weaving, Justine Clarke, Anthony Weigh, Julie Hamilton, Annie Byron, Andrew Upton, Mary Macrae, Fiona Crombie, Nick Schlieper, Eric Duffy, James McKay.
A peek behind the curtain reveals the play is still the thing in "In the Company of Actors," an intriguing if somewhat unfulfilling docu about an Oz legit ensemble touring to Brooklyn. Sydney Theater Company permitted generous access to rehearsals, allowing thesps, director and playwright to be scrutinized, but most revelations come from liberally inserted talking heads. Pic is already assured ancillary use as a teaching tool in schools Down Under. Pubcasters will also make a casting call and, with Cate Blanchett’s name attached, steady fest play is likely.
In 2004, after an extended Hollywood-induced absence, Aussie thesp Cate Blanchett made a much-heralded return to the boards of the Sydney Theater Company. Spearheading the thesp’s return was her hubby and frequent collaborator Andrew Upton, who adapted Ibsen’s "Hedda Gabler" as a Blanchett vehicle.
Also featuring thesps Hugo Weaving ("The Matrix," "Little Fish"), Aden Young ("Black Robe") and Justine Clark ("Look Both Ways") in the care of experienced thesp and director Robyn Nevin, the nine-week season of "Hedda" was a major success. Eighteen months on, the troupe were invited to reunite and re-stage the play at New York’s Harvey Theater for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
With talking-head asides, docu charts the ensemble’s progress over a five-week rehearsal period, up to and including their Gotham premiere.
While restaging the play creates its own particular dilemmas, the troupe’s professionalism and familial atmosphere actually makes for undramatic viewing. If there were any truly testing and dangerous moments (and cast professionalism suggests there weren’t), they must have been left on the cutting-room floor. With Blanchett enthusiastically leading the way, docu’s most inspiring moments come from interviews discussing the danger of the theater and the vitality of its ephemeral nature. Little of that edginess makes it to the screen, however, though Nevin looks somewhat tortured as as she speaks about even the most innocuous aspects of the project.
Major, unintended laugh comes from Blanchett’s Freudian slip about her playwright spouse being a "lover of actors." Of all the participants, supporting player Anthony Weigh ("The Man Who Sued God") is the most eloquent, insightful and unpretentiously grounded about his thesping craft.
New York sequences covering technical rehearsal — which see Oz lighting directors, costume designers and stage managers in action — add to pic’s educational value, giving a clearer indication of the importance of the players who diligently work in the shadow of the stars.
Helmer Ian Darling is respectfully unobtrusive, taking care not to interrupt the rehearsal process, while astute editing creates a breezy momentum. Lensing suffers from darkened viewpoints and the technical limitations of DV technology, but will be more effective on the tube. In contrast, sound work is impeccable, capturing every thesp’s utterance. and every thespian utterance is captured.
Camera (color/B&W, HD video-to-DigiBeta), Simon Smith; editor, Sally Fryer; music, Alan John; sound, Leo Sullivan. Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival, June 10, 2007. Running time: 75 MIN.