“Do not rejoice in his defeat”
Despite feeling like I live in a theatre at time, my experience of Brecht has actually been very limited. When I first saw Mother Courage at the National, I hadn’t got a clue what was going on and it was a rather disconcerting experience all told. My subsequent discovery that all the shenanigans were an integral part of the show left me a little nonplussed, but since then I haven’t had the opportunity to revisit his work, or maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough… Even when The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui was first announced as part of Chichester’s 50th anniversary season, I can’t say the thought filled me with much anticipation.
But the cast was attractive, led by Henry Goodman, and crucially, the word of mouth from trusted souls was excellent and so I booked myself in on a day when those lovely £5 train tickets were available. And I really enjoyed myself, having one of those great experiences where a complete lack of pre-knowledge about the show really paid off to just fascinating effect. Brecht wrote the play in 1941, a story about a small-time Chicago gangster whose violent seizure and control of the cauliflower trade (I know but bear with) saw him ascend to fearsome heights, but the playwright’s true intentions are revealed through the parallels, which are soon crystal clear, with the rise to power of one Adolf Hitler.
Forced to flee his homeland once the Nazis had taken power in 1933, Brecht had been able to witness the insidious rise of this ‘gangster’ and so this play speaks of a horrifyingly unchallengable truth. As much as Ui, and Hitler, made things happen to sate their bloodlust, they were permitted to do so by a society which could have prevented them and didn’t. Jonathan Church’s production sounds this message perfectly, with a powerful resonance that we are rightly never allowed to forget, and a clear-sightedness which stripped away much of the Brecht-isms (a choice I definitely appreciated)
As Ui, Henry Goodman is just sensationally good. A slippery, shifting thing brimming with forceful personality and a hypnotic quality that is all too persuasive, this has to rank as one of his finest performances to date. Michael Feast and William Gaunt provide wonderful support, as does Joe McGann as the particularly chilling Giri, and I liked seeing David Sturzaker and James Northcote in the ensemble as they’re both young actors I am liking the look of. By rights, this ought to make the transfer to London, though I’ve yet to hear anything about it, as it is for once a rather atypical Chichester show which demonstrates once again how valuable a part of the UK theatre ecology CFT is, and has been for the last 50 years.