Hugo Weaving is Arturo Ui

Print Friendly

Story by John Snelson

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is on now at the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney. The Artistic Director of Sydney Theatre Company Kip Williams links up again as director, with Hugo Weaving as the lead role. That’s a cracker of a combination.

This is the Bertolt Brecht classic, but now set in modern Australia – complete with on-stage cameras, huge screen and a script that has been lightly touched with words that remind us of local politics and characters, current events and national issues.

There were many contempory touches to Brecht’s 1941 masterpiece.

For example, I loved the opening scene, taking place in what appeared to be a Sydney Chinese restaurant.  It reminded me of those in Sussex Street and Falcon Street – you know those joints frequented by party headkickers, advertising tycoons, far-right radio jockeys, trades unionists and disgraced  bathhouse bobbies.

The play is often presented with its dark, national socialist overtones. Of course, Hitler was just a little man in so many ways who rose to a supreme dictatorial position.  The Fuehrer made a spectacular rise fueled by his own growing psychopathic egotism and ambition.

In this adaption of the play, Arturo too uses a persuasive, sweeping, charismatic personality and hones his speeches into a theatrical oratorial performance. This style appeals to the less educated in both the upper and working classes. He commences his journey as a rather naïve, small time mobster surrounded by some heavyweight, stand-over brutes. He is ambitious and wants to get “bigger”. 

Arturo lives in a world where opponents stand back and allow the thugs and criminals in suits to win. This is achieved by bribery, blackmail, bullying and bulldust. Outlandish and unbelievable, sweeping claims about caring and valuing others – yet they resonate with the words today of our own politicians and would-be leaders.

He is expansive, obfuscating and unconvincing to anyone with a brain, an education, a heart and a pulse. Even then, money, reputation, guilt and ambition can over-rule integrity and truth.

Hugo Weaving is outstanding as he grows in stature by adopting a vocabulary, body language and wardrobe that present him as a man of values, a leader of stature.  His speeches become almost Shakespearean and loud, passionate and eloquently seductive. However, behind this facade, the content is false, dead and disconnected. Arturo’s offering is callous, audaciously incredible, verging on the sialoquent and camp.

Tom Wright’s adaptation leads me to draw parallels with recent unbelievable events – like the Brits swallowing the Brexit bunkum; the Americans believing the Donald drivel; and the Russians’ abandoning Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost, perestroika in favour of a poppycock potentate like Vlad Putin.

Hugo Weaving looks the part – he is Arturo Ui.   The play remains faithful to it’s creator’s intent.  It’s modern, it’s funny, it’s indeed dark and it’s brilliant. Don’t miss it.

21 March — 28 Apr 2018 at The Roslyn Packer Theatre