Tuesday, April 24, 2018


The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht. Directed by Kip Williams.  Set design by Robert Cousins. Costume Design Marg Horwell. Lighting design. Nick Schlieper. Composer and Sound designer. Stefan Gregory. Cinematographer. Justine Kerrigan. Fight director. Nigel Poulton. Assistant Director Alastair Clark. Voice and text coach. Charmian Gradwell. Ros Packer Theatre. March 27 – April 28 2018.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Hugo Weaving as Arturo Ui in THe Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui. Photo: Daniel Boud

As we witness the outcomes of a Royal Commission into Banking and the Financial Services and the appalling malpractice and fraudulent corruption that it exposes, a play depicting graft and corruption in the Chicago fruit market trade may appear somewhat trivial by comparison. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bertolt Brecht’s veiled 1941 parabel of the rise of Hitler  in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui is a chillingly timely and prophetic condemnation of the political, social and economic systems that permeate a corrupt and opportunistic society.

The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui. Photo: Daniel Noud
Kip Williams’  vision of the rise of a psychopathic narcissist is unrelenting in its menacing momentum. Video cameras simultaneously capture the stage action on film, projecting close-ups onto a large screen, so that we are overwhelmed by enlarged visions of true motivation.  We see Cabinet Minister Doughborough’s struggle to resist bribery, until persuaded to succumb in order to help his disabled son, a capitulation that will set him on the slippery slope to dishonourable obligation. Veteran actor, Peter Carroll strikes a tragic figure as an honourable and honest man, destroyed by the malevolent and persuasive power of the manipulative Fruit Market Syndicate.

But it is Hugo Weaving’s Arturo Ui that presents the most chilling lesson to us all of the ever present threat of megalomaniacal ambitions. Weaving is superb in the role of Brecht’s villainous paragon of evil. Ui rises from humble, unknown beginnings to weasel his way into the city’s fruit market enterprise through an insidiously contrived pathway of ingratiation, convincing persuasion, plausible protection and ultimately ruthless terror. Although originally set in Chicago, Williams’s setting could very easily apply to the fruit market industry of any Australian capital city. After all the precedent of corruption, grafting and terrorism has not gone unnoticed in Australian fruit markets during the last century. Brecht’s play is applicable to any corrupt enterprise and only a matter of days after seeing the production, I heard of Ron Medich’s conviction for the murder of fellow developer, Malcolm McGirr after arranging for one of his associates to murder McGirr in front of his 9 year old son. In Arturo Ui, it is Ui’s psychopathic offsider, Ernesto Roma (Colin Moody), who commits the murders, only to eventually fall foul of his leader and suffer an appropriate fate . 

Murder most foul is the name of the game, and director,Williams spares nothing to portray the violence graphically on stage and screen. What plays before our eyes is a Shakespearian drama of mammoth proportions and Tom Wright’s translation in part owes allegiance to Shakespearian masterpieces. There is a brilliant scene in which Ui learns the actor’s art froma  theatre director, played with eccentric flamboyance and intensity by Mitchell Butel. It is not accidental that Ui should deliver a rousing rendition of Marc Antony’s speech over the body of Julius Caesar from Shakespeare’s Roman play. Nor is it inescapable that Ui’s sly wooing of Betty Dullfleet (Anita Hegh) over the body of her slain husband, the newspaper editor Ignatius Dullfleet (Tony Cogin) should bear resemblance to Richard lll’s unlikely wooing of the widow Anne over the coffin of the husband that Richard had murdered.
Hugo Weaving as Arturo Ui and Peter Carroll as Dogsborough
Photo by Daniel Boud
Observance of Brecht’s Alienation Effect, designed to prevent us from cathartic capitulation while heightening our judgement is reverently observed by Williams. Actors are seen warming up, chatting, fiddling with costuming and generally strolling about the stage as the audience enters. The plot for each scene is projected, so that we are not seduced by the story, but able to see how characters interact and the consequence of their behaviour. Close-ups on the screen illuminate attitude and motive and each scene clearly represents Ui’s inevitable rise to power. It is a frightening vision of humanity’s inescapable powerlessness in the face of resolute evil.

What we are witness to is a powerfully staged prophesy. Weaving is monumental in the leading tole, but this in no way detracts from the evenness of a talented and unified ensemble. Although didactic in its mission, Brecht always claimed that his theatre should first and foremost entertain. Secondly it should instruct and elicit judgement and action. The Sydney Theatre Company production is gripping and frightening theatre. Seen in the context of Hitler’s outrageous atrocities and tyrannous evil, this production may not make our blood run cold, but it will remind us , as Dogsborough suggests in the closing epilogue, that history will repeat itself and reminds us all that the dog of war is still a bitch on heat.  
The cast of The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui. Photo; Daniel Boud
The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui will close at the Sydney Theatre Company’s Ros Packer Theatre on April 28th, and I suspect that the final performances will already be sold out, but if you are able to get to Sydney to see this excellent production of Brecht’s prophetic warning, and there is a seat to be honourably obtained, it will be a purchase you won’t regret.