Publicity Designer: Ed Bankes

“If we could learn to look instead of gawking, we’d see the horror in the heart of farce”

Brecht’s 1941 anti-fascist play employs Chicago during the Great Depression to illustrate how desperation allows evil to take hold. Beginning with the endangered cauliflower trade, it mixes humour with cutting seriousness to show what creeps up on us while we are laughing. Aaron Kilercioglu’s diverse casting serves to highlight the human nature of the message allowing the play to expand beyond the rise of Hitler and implore us to take a stand in a much wider sense.

Part of this attraction is the script’s ongoing success in dissecting politics and corruption, not just limited to Nazi Germany but universally. Yesterday evening’s performance opened with the Paradise Papers fresh in our mind meaning there was something particularly nauseating about Dogsborough’s complicity. Tom Nunan played the honourable statesmen to perfection, falling into the trap laid out for him and squirming with revulsion at his own dealings with the gangsters. It was hard not to see images of Lord Ashcroft hiding in the toilet as Dogsborough cowered in court with Ui beaming next to him. Nunan’s performance was an impressive and upsetting demonstration of a man’s descent into complicity.

“Jordan Julien as Arturo Ui led the show with energy and ruthlessness”

Jordan Julien as Arturo Ui led the show with energy and ruthlessness. His face contorting into menacing smiles and quiet threats coupled with manic laughter allowed him to rule the stage. The charming brilliance of this performance built up a convincing cult of personality. His stance and commanding voice improved as the play went on, his ego enlarging as the mob’s influence spread. Arturo Ui is a huge part to play but Julien manages to captivate and terrify as he compellingly addresses his men, the corrupted court and the audience themselves. The show flows smoothly between casual slaughter and polite, surface level politics. The serene walk in the Dullfleets’ mansion’s gardens accompanied by Brecht’s satirical rhyming exchanges perfectly exemplifies the transgressed boundaries between politicians and criminals. Chloe Booyens as Betty Dullfleet also gives a tremendous performance dangerously encouraging business with Ui then left in horrified paralysis at the monster she has helped ascend to power.

Stella Swain and Shali Reddy also deserve recognition as superb set designers. The raised platform allows Ui and his henchman to skulk below its menacing shadow at the show’s beginning before slowly rising to its top and delivering speeches from the highest points. This allows Ui another stage to perfect his speeches, his manipulation and launch into tirades as he towers above the audience. Given Brecht’s constant interaction with the audience through the prologue and epilogue, Ui’s second stage allows another level of meta-theatricality. The use of projections intensifies the play, emphasising the injustice of Dullfleet’s funeral as his murderers stand with wreaths and solemn expressions next to images of weeping crowds. The henchmen themselves excellently support and enable Ui’s character with Clemi Collett as the betrayed Roma a particular stand out. Roma sees the last glimpse of brotherhood and honour snuffed out by Comrie Saville-Ferguson’s wonderfully manic performance of Giri.

There were unfortunately some glitches with lighting which detracted from the actors’ performances as they momentarily broke our total absorption in the play. The projections of Hitler’s speeches at the show’s finale enforce the point but perhaps are unnecessary in this adaptation when the play has so successfully conveyed its message. Brecht’s script constantly challenges its audience to think harder and stand up stronger for their rights but it is not easy to carry out this idea in such a fresh and invigorating way. Moreover the incredible performances bring fascinating new perspectives and re-energise the play concluding not with pessimism but with determination to remember the lessons that have been learnt. Funny, anarchic and menacingly good, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is not a show to miss

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