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  • Articles by Mary

    The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse


    The Donmar’s new production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, adapted by Bruce Norris, sets out to engage us from the start. We enter a 1930s Chicago speakeasy filled with gangsters and their flunkeys, drinking, dancing, piano-playing, fighting, snogging.  We take a drink to our table and find a menu with information about the theatrical delicacies to follow.  An actor confidentially invites us to help him out with his bits of the show—shout here, cry there etc.  When the play begins some of us are recruited into the story, as villains, stoodges, and in one case, as a corpse.  

     

    Twelve actors play 35 characters across 18 scenes over almost three hours. Scenes changes are punctuation by brief bits of song—sad, serious or silly.  The production is dark but quick. Nothing hurts for long.  

     

    The characters are wonderfully one-dimensional and the actors feast on this. The goodies could not be prissier nor the villains more corrupt.  The one exception is Lenny Henry’s Arturo whose transformation from a small scale hood into a demagogue is the subject of the play.  Interestingly  Henry, a comedian, seems to become more comfortable as Arturo develops from the simple clown- like thug into a more complex orator and politician. He is utterly convincing as he methodically annihilates the opposition through intimidation, extortion, and murder.  

     

    Brecht wrote Arturo Ui in 1941 while in exile from Germany. The play was transparently about Hitler and the events leading to the Nazi rise to power, with characters Arturo as Adolf, Giri as Goring, Roma as Rohm, Givola as Goebbels. The Donmar includes this list of parallels in our table menus to help us make the links. Additionally they somewhat unsubtly try to add a contemporary American dimension through references to building walls and making America great again.  

     

    Arturo Ui is a disturbing play to watch and to think about. The brutality and the homicides contribute to this but do not define it. Ui’s final speech is breathtakingly dishonest but creates a soothing and inspiring narrative of a common person succeeding against the odds and against the contempt of others, and of dangerous foreign enemies who will stop at nothing and who justify and indeed require extreme measures. This is fake news at it’s finest and most dangerous, and most familiar.  It is these echoes in our own contemporary politics which ensure Arturo continues to resonate. 

    Until 17 June

     

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