REVIEW: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
A rough-edged but arresting take on Brecht’s satire
It's the Great Depression, Chicago's vegetable trade is suffering, and one small-timer and his henchmen are offering their services to the Cauliflower Trust. All they want to do is look after people; offer protection for workers, jobs, businesses. But when the Trust fail to brook Ui's influence, and bribery and corruption starts going unnoticed, suddenly a much bigger problem is on our hands…
Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, subtitled 'A Parable Play', is a satirical allegory of Hitler's rise to power, using cabbages and Chicago gangsters. Yes, it's strange. And it takes a little time to settle into the play, to work out what's going on, to wonder why exactly you care about the fate of Chicago's heritage carrots. But then the darkness starts bubbling up from the core of the play: characters that were once merely a nuisance start making the hairs prick up on the back of your neck.
I think it took the actors a little while to settle in, as well. Various cast members seemed to have better delivery and be more comfortable in their roles later in the play, which I'll chalk up to opening night (I'll pick a random example: Henry Eaton-Mercer wavered a little as the boisterous opening announcer, but was much more convincing and sincere in his other roles throughout the night, particularly The Defence).
The cast gelled well throughout the production, several actors moving through different roles seamlessly, though a few deserve particular mention: Clemi Collett as Roma has a noticeable extra power and vivacity, as does Eduardo Strike in a short but compelling appearance ('That's uncanny…you've got things in common with these gangsters. You even sound like 'em.'). Comrie Saville-Ferguson moves from goofy to genuinely spine-chilling as Giri, Brecht's dead ringer for Hermann Goring.(Oh, and Chloe Booyens is hilarious in her appearances on the stand.)
The trajectory of the man himself, Ui (Jordan Julien) is brilliantly done. You don't really believe he's much of a threat, but then he hits the climax of that soliloquy and everything goes black and you start to believe it. Julien himself is a seamless, sinuous Ui, with a brilliant command over his facial expressions and body, and a spark of the theatrical, though that sounds rather superfluous. It's like the character's such a performer you're not sure what he'll do next. Which turns terrifying.
Given the amount of reshuffling that has to happen with the set, the transitions were basically seamless, and the scaffolding that covers the stage part of the time is ingeniously set up (atmosphere-wise it suits the run-down back-alley feel of the first time we see Ui, which makes it very interesting when fishy law trials are performed on the same apparatus). The lighting was noticeably slightly off at times – there's a scene near the end where it'd probably look more seamless if the follow-spots were switched off for the few seconds the characters were offstage, for instance – but not enough to impede the performance.
Basically, this production's a little rough around the edges, the odd late cue or dubious accent, and I got a nagging sense throughout the production that some of the performers could have thrown themselves into it a bit more, for want of a more specific gripe. But opening night often has an element of that, and it's a fantastic play, really solidly carried out, with a crackling, disturbing energy that breaks the surface at points.
It's also an interesting perspective on Hitler, given that being taught so much about WWII can actually sort of familiarise and deaden us to the real horror of the situation, and we need to be really conscious of the 'resistible' nature of evil. After all, even though 'the world stood up and stopped the bastard', Ui warns at the close, 'the bitch that bore him is in heat again'.
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is on at 7:45pm at the ADC, until Saturday 11 November.