Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui (Minerva Theatre)

My knowledge of the Brechtian style came from drama in College, during which I saw my first Brechtian play on a trip to see the National Theatre's production of Mother Courage. In terms of a Brechtian production, I felt that it fell short in achieving the techniques required, leaving me disappointed. I therefore went to see this production of The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui hoping to see a better Brechtian production.

The story follows the rise of a gangster called Arturo Ui (Henry Goodman) in 1930s Chicago. The play compares this story to Adolf Hitler's rise to power, and connections were made between the characters and certain people in real life. City leader Dogsborough (William Gaunt) represented Paul von Hindenberg, whilst Artuto's henchmen, Ernesto Roma (Michael Feast), Emanuele Giri (Joe McGann) and Giuseppe Givola (David Sturzaker), represented Ernst Rohm, Hermann Goring and Joseph Gobbels. Connections are also made between each scene and the events during the rise of the Nazi party, from the burning of a warehouse (the Reichstag fire) to the Dock Aid Scandal (Eastern Aid Scandal).

My problem with Mother Courage was that although the production was making every effort to use  Brechtian devices, including the placards, the sparse stage, and having the backstage team onstage, the rock music that was used turned the production into a rock concert. This deviated away from one of Brecht's main techniques, which is not to make the audience emotionally involved but provide a thought-provoking play, and I came out of Mother Courage with the music stuck in my head. 

In comparison, this production uses the Brechtian techniques and got it right. Before the production starts the audience is introduced to a speakeasy, and onstage a band plays some imperceptable, but light hearted music, a tone that is used throughout the production to provide a contrast to the dark messages of the play. The play is introduced by a worker of the speakeasy, who mentions each main character involved in the upcoming events and their attributes, all of whom were sitting around the speekeasy.

Placards were not used, however the legends that told the rise of Hitler were included in the programme. The audience saw the cast bringing on and off pieces of the set, taking away any illusion of scene transition. What is more, it was interesting to see the connections between Arturo Ui and Adolf Hitler. Whilst the farcial elements made for some hilarious moments, by the second half it was clear that Arturo was becoming Hitler and the ending was shockingly provocative

Henry Goodman was great as Artuto Ui, and he did well in following the character's journey. The audience observed Arturo changing from a hunched, beady eyed, wreck, into a leader. However he was a leader who displayed paranoia as witnessed when he jumped at the sound of the piano he was trying to lean on, before he checked inside for a bomb.

Goodman's highlight came when he practiced Mark Antony's speech from Julius Caesar with an actor, in order to improve his appearance as a leader. He takes the actors instructions with glee, almost child-like, no matter how ridiculous they were, which made the scene hilarious. This was also the point that his gestuses were making it clear that he was becoming Hitler, to the point where he ended the scene goose-marching off stage whilst doing the heil salute, which was met with a round of applause.

Most of the cast members did not have a prominant role in the play, thus sticking to the Verfrumdungseffekt technique, however there were some who had their moments during the play. At first, William Gaunt was a puffed up, proud, and self-assured Dogsborough, who is followed everywhere by his weedy son, Young Dogsborough (James Northcote). Whilst he took a step back as Arturo  began to take over, the second acts begins with his epitaph, in which he remorsefully regrets the decisions he had made earlier.

Lizzy McInnerny provided a humane perspective to the play. She performed a shocking scene in which she played a badly wounded woman who screams out for help in the streets after her family is shot down by mobsters. She later plays Betty Dullfoot, whose husband is killed for opposing Arturo. When forced to join Arturo's cause, she breaks down and pleads forgiveness from her deceased husband.

The set did well establishing the setting of Chicago's underworld. The background consisted of brick walls, metal gangways, fireescapes, archways, barred windows, air conditioning fans and alleyways. Yet the overall set was colored in black and shrouded in darkness, making it feel less naturalistic, and more minimal, whilst establishing the bleak world of Arturo Ui.

The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui was a satisfying and thought provoking Brechtian production. It was so much better than the National Theatre's Mother Courage and is worth seeing at a high Top Price.

Top Price

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