Friday, 21 September 2012

‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui': A Review

by Mary Mitchell

Henry Goodman as Arturo Ui
Minerva Theatre, Chichester
(image: pjproductions)
For those of you who are not Brecht fans, and those of you who did not see this amazingly colourful and energetic production, I send my greatest sympathies. Whilst being a high-energy, frenetic, humorous and satirical allegory of the rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, its main success arises from the chilling accusations levelled at the audience: the horrors of Nazism could happen again.

The play, originally written in 1941, chronicles the rise of the Chaplinesque Arturo Ui who is a fictional 1930s Chicago mobster --- albeit modelled entirely on Hitler. Ui gains a stranglehold over the cauliflower trade in both Chicago and Cicero which, in turn, enables him to secure power over and dominate all other mobsters in the region. This lily-livered upstart, who is afraid of his own shadow, is slowly transformed into a megalomaniac, indestructible force for evil.

'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui'
Minerva Theatre, Chichester
(images: manuelharlan)

His rise to power, unchallenged by the vicious gangsters he manipulates, is beautifully and skilfully played by Henry Goodman. Within the course of the play Goodman produces an Ui who is both gauche, childish and pathetically inadequate and yet has the cunning and calculating characteristics of a maniacal and demonic despot. Before our very eyes, Ui metamorphoses, with barely the arch of an eyebrow, into a sinister and brutal dictator. A delicious moment of pure directing genius has Ui learning choreographed movements, from a washed-up Shakespearean actor, which transform him into a goose-stepping caricature of Hitler. This hilarious moment chills the audience to the bone as the central message of the play finally strikes home.

Brecht’s epic style of theatre, and the central message of the piece, is most powerful at the moment  Goodman removes his toothbrush moustache at the end of the play. The audience is swamped by Black Shirts whilst Ui postures, menaces and goose-steps his way through a rally. We have been accused and condemned: our failure to resist the charisma and power of a character such as Ui shows us the inevitable consequences of our inaction when faced with real life tyranny.

Brecht’s didacticism as shown through Ui may seem overplayed, obvious and passé, to some, but the play leaves you in no doubt that his concerns are as relevant today as they were in 1941.Ui is absolutely irresistible!

1 comment:

  1. I agree, though perhaps as a Brecht fan already I'm biased. The production and the acting were outstanding while I was surprised at the effect those iconic nazi symbols can still have even on a generation not impacted directly by the war. As the transition from Ui to Hitler became complete and the soilders marched on stage a collective shiver ran through the audience. Amazing.


Comments with names are more likely to be published.