Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
Robert Stenson reviews EUTCo’s rendition of the Brecht classic.
Before I begin, a confession must be made. Having seen "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" on three previous occasions (albeit amateur productions), I would struggle to say that it is one of the most enjoyable plays I have ever seen.
I would struggle even more to give you a fully comprehensible explanation of the plot. So, when Exeter University Theatre Company announced back in September that Brecht's gangster-drama was to be their next big Northcott show, it is understandable that I met the decision with some uncertainty. However, rest assured, five minutes into EUTCo's production, I was fully absorbed in the world of crime and cauliflowers.
Brecht’s immensely satirical piece charts the rise of Hitler, substituting the streets of Berlin with the gang-ridden dockyards of Chicago. With Ui acting as the representation of the German dictator, the direct parallels between organisations and characters on-stage to their real life counterparts provide us with a 'history-101', of sorts, portraying the lies, deceit and violence that led to the eventual appointment of Hitler as Fuhrer of Nazi Germany.
Detailing events from the employment of Hitler as Chancellor in 1933 by Paul von Hindenburg (character of Dogsborough) through to the "Night of the Long Knives", a period between 30th June and 2nd July 1934 where the Nazi Party carried out numerous political murders (including that of Hitler's 'right-hand-man' Ernst Roehm (Roma)), the play covers many of the milestones that provided the National Socialist German Workers' Party with the foundation for their eventual rise to power.
By the end of the first act, with the help of film stock footage and very helpful projected information slides, I already understood much more about the context of the piece than when I had entered the auditorium 90 minutes earlier.
However it is not this fact that struck me the most about what I had just seen. What resounded with me more than anything were both the style of the performance and the incredible acting talent on show.
Vast amounts of credit should first go to the vision of Zac Price who, on his directorial debut, was successful in transferring the audience back to the depression-hit streets of 30s Chicago.
Brecht's work is prone to being long, dull and often boring to watch, and "Ui" is no different. Yet, the addition of a live jazz band (led by Rob Emmett) providing an understated, yet tense and emotive soundtrack throughout, was the first step to overcoming the aforementioned hurdles. The smoke filled stage created the eerie atmosphere so relatable to the 1920/30s "Speakeasy", and the cold, harsh lighting contributed to the dark tones emanating from the text. Employing Brecht’s idea of Epic Theatre, Price’s use of huge stage blocks and relatively little set provided a chasm within which his actors could play, a chasm that was easily filled with the incredible performances of the cast.
Watching a "who's-who" of EUTCo members sharing the same stage provides a theatrical event unlike any other you will experience throughout the academic year. This (I'm going to say it) "all-star cast" really is the pièce de résistance of acting talent currently present at the University of Exeter.
For those of you reading this aware that many of my friends do indeed make up the vast majority of the cast, this side note is for you; if you have seen the show, you will understand the reasoning behind my comments. Hearing audience members call this the "best EUTCo production of the last 10 years" highlights that my view on this production is shared by a great number of others.
Despite slipping-accents at points, this minor point is enormously overshadowed by the exceptional performances stemming from this ensemble. Luke Theobald as Dogsborough gives a scarily-realistic representation of Hindenburg (kudos to the make-up team), proving his worth once more as an actor.
Tom Chapman as Roma (Roehm) proves again that he is one of the most engaging performers currently at the University, not letting even the smallest of characteristics drop throughout the piece. Sophie Jukes, James Bailey and Joe McDonnell also deserve special mentions for their superb characterisation in their respective roles.
The biggest praise however, must go to Nicholas Limm in his portrayal of Arturo Ui. Though no clearly explicit link is ever made between the character of Ui and Hitler, Limm's movement, voice and stage presence were more than enough for us to make the connection. His final speech, addressed from a podium, is the undoubtable highlight of the performance. Far from being a simple portrayal of one of the most infamous men in history, Limm's gestures and speech patterns through to the smallest (yet true-to-life) flick of his hair, all looked as though they came naturally to him. A tremendous actor, so engrossed in his character; it is with no surprise that he is currently being accepted at some of the biggest drama schools in the world.
All in all, EUTCo’s production of "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" does rank amongst the best theatre I have ever seen. Superbly directed, incredibly envisioned and outstandingly performed, this performance once again proves how, year-on-year, EUTCo never fail to bridge the gap between student and professional production.
Photography by Josh Irwandi