The Daily Telegraph
March 31, 2018
WHAT: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
WHERE: Roslyn Packer Theatre
WHEN: until April 28
RATING: FOUR AND A HALF STARS
THE vast stage is a hive of activity as the audience take their seats. The actors wander around, stretching, having hair and make-up done, and getting into character. Camera operators are also preparing.
There are costume racks and a shabby lounge on one side, a dressing room area in the wings on the other, and a giant screen at the back (set design by Robert Cousins).
Meanwhile, a throbbing percussive beat creates an ominous atmosphere.
Then Charles Wu steps to the front of the stage, and after addressing a short prologue to the audience we are off, tipped headlong into a thrilling, terrifying production with a superlative performance by Hugo Weaving at its dark core and a brilliant integration of live performance and live video feed.
Bertolt Brecht wrote The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in 1941 as a parable about Hitler’s insidious rise to power. He set the play in 1930s Chicago, inspired by the gangster films he loved, where mobster Arturo Ui and his gang set out to control the vegetable market and gradually take over the city.
Kip Williams’ production for Sydney Theatre Company is set in a contemporary city, where businessmen do deals at Chinese restaurants and real estate is paramount. It could be Sydney though there are no specific references beyond Ui reading The Daily Telegraph. But it is a world we recognise all too well, where politicians exploit fearmongering and corruption is rife.
The wonderfully muscular translation by Tom Wright is faithful to Brecht but uses a contemporary Australian idiom and weaves in references to guns, stopping the boats, and even some lyrics from John Farnham’s The Voice.
Cameras follow the actors. The interplay of live performance and video is superbly done, intensifying the visceral impact of the production (which is rife with violence) and heightening the drama as the cameras pan in for close-ups and show us different perspectives.
Weaving gives a blistering, virtuosic performance as Ui, gradually transforming from a slack-jawed, slouching lout in grubby singlet to an accomplished orator in a three-piece suit, but always exuding a sense of danger.
His changing physicality and rise to power is complemented by Marg Horwell’s clever costuming.
Colin Moody is scary as Ui’s sidekick Roma, in another magnificent performance. But all the other actors, who take on several roles, are excellent and work as a tight ensemble: Mitchell Butel, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Ivan Donato, Anita Hegh, Brent Hill, Monica Sayers, Charles Wu and Ursula Yovich.
Nick Schlieper’s lighting and Stefan Gregory’s sound enhance the menace in a stunning production that leaves you winded.