REVIEW: The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui, Donmar Warehouse ✭✭✭✭

Last Updated on 7th May 2017

The Resistable Rise Of Artuto Ui at The Donmar Warehouse
Lenny Henry in The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui. Photo: Helen Maybanks

The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui
Donmar Warehouse
4 May 2017
4 Stars
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The Donmar are not holding back with Bruce Norris’s new adaptation of the Brechtian classic, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. There is star power in the form of national treasure Lenny Henry, a stonking cast who perform with real attack and some exceedingly thinly veiled jibes at the current American administration. The two hours and forty-five minutes fizzed by and in true Brechtian style inspired a full-blown rebellion in the audience. The evening felt thrillingly topical and vital and serves an unpalatable lesson in how to make a monster acknowledging our own culpability and guilt.

The Warehouse is transformed into a speakeasy nightclub with plain wooden chairs and tables around the ground floor. As a reviewer, it was an unusual luxury to have been afforded something to write on! The game’s afoot as soon as you’re in the space, the actors are robustly milling and accosting unsuspecting audience members to beg a bit of participation. Even Henry is bouncing along the line introducing himself and shaking hands in his Chicago lilt. Right out of the starting blocks we’re being ruffled and provoked; this is not a production for spectators or bystanders. A piano provides the opening centre piece and a complete blackout shocks us into the story.

The Resistable Rise Of Arturo ui at Donmar Warehouse
Lenny Henry in The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui

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.

Tom Edden as the actor brought the house down. Flawless.

The Resistable Rise Of Arturo Ui
Giles Terera in The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui

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.


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