The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui
4 May 2017
The production utilises all the set pieces anyone who studied Brecht and epic theatre at school will recognise, prologue and epilogue, chorus, direct address and all that delightful gestus, but still, manages to connect emotionally in a natural way and move the audience. I never felt that we were being lectured to and I’m certain this is due to Simon Evans’ remarkable direction and the strength of the brilliantly versatile ensemble. Indeed, “versatility,” more and more often considered a dirty word and subtext for “beige” within the industry; here it is used to glorious effect with modern songs well-sung and reconfigured to support the drama. The cast was uniformly strong but Giles Terera as Ernesto Roma almost dances his part to devastating effect. He is desperately tragic as Arturo’s only real friend and ally, double-crossed and deceived but who has his revenge in the end. Equally, Justine Mitchell is hysterical as the harassed lawyer, frantically trying to remain order in a topsy-turvy court case as witnesses, victims and defendants flip-flop, spin and interchange making us dizzy. She is just as exceptional as Betty Dullfeet a woman who attempts to reason and side with the new order but is driven to a manic despair by her decisions and their consequences.
Lenny Henry, so recognisable as the lovable clown from the box in the corner is transformed, using all that charisma to portray a ruthless man devoid of any sympathy or care for others than himself in his quest for power. On stage, he evolves from lolloping and skulking gangster to polished and refined statesman. He dominates the stage and his presence provides a constant threat and menace. Vocally, he occasionally bellows a bit and doesn’t support, meaning that we lose some of that natural alpha authority but overall it is a very commanding performance.
It was a smart decision of the Donmar’s to fill the mezzanine with students on press night. They were absolutely raucous and compared to the often-reserved press reminded me of theatre’s capacity to shock and incite. For anyone feeling exhausted and frustrated with the political status quo and the depressing direction of international politics as a whole, I urge you to go to this production. You will be asked to join in and I hope you do because to not join in and stand up to a man like Ui is to be complicit in his rise. My only criticism would be that it is much easier to laugh and weep for them across the pond, with their different accents and unfamiliar ways when we in the United Kingdom have a responsibility to deal with the plank in our own eye before casting this very well-worn stone.