Friday, 12 April 2013
Theatre review: Ubu Roi
But Ubu's crimes on the way to becoming king are nothing compared to those of his reign, as he massacres the nobility, judges and bankers who won't play by his rules, then imposes increasingly severe taxes on the people. Soon even Mère Ubu can't handle the horrors she's unleashed in him, while his former accomplice Bordure (Xavier Boiffier) raises a Russian army to dethrone Ubu and restore Wenceslas' rightful heir Bougrelas (Sylvain Levitte.)
I've never seen Ubu Roi before but I know a certain amount about it (largely through seeing Simon Stephens' The Trial of Ubu last year) and Ormerod's set certainly doesn't look like the setting I would have expected for a juvenile, messy play but Donnellan's conceit proves a good match for the black comedy that ensues. After the lengthy prologue sequence of the boy filming his house, the violent world he's concocted keeps breaking back into the middle-class domesticity of the framing device, suggesting the nastiness bubbling under the most polite of facades. And the domestic setting means everyday items can become part of Ubu's story, like a handheld food processor being used to drill Wenceslas' brains out, or a large laundry bag becoming the basement Père Ubu traps his enemies in.
A two-hour show in French seems like a big ask (especially as it was the first time Ben served as my theatre companion - fortunately he loved it, even if it does lack Cheek By Jowl's usual flashes of nudity) but as usual with this company there's a highly energetic, very individual aesthetic to the production that almost makes you forget you're reading the dialogue on surtitles. It's dark, twisted and funny.
Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry is booking until the 20th of April at Silk Street Theatre.
Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes straight through.