Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar

“Any suggestion of a correlation between the leader of a certain nation and the homicidal gangsters we depict is something that the management must strictly disavow”

There’s something special in the timelessness of some pieces of theatre, their themes and arguments as relevant to audiences today as they were when they were written years, decades, even centuries ago. Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui falls into the middle category, written in 1941 as an allegorical response to his nation’s fall to Nazism, and was magisterially revived at Chichester a few years back.

For their own new production, the Donmar Warehouse has turned to Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park, The Low Road) who doesn’t quite trust the material in the same way, updating it in the most heavy-handed of manners by directly substituting Trump for Hitler. It’s an arresting move and indubitably pertinent in the way in which it expounds on the exploitation of a particularly toxic brand of populist politics. Continue reading “Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar”

Review: Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, Union

 “Justice is what serves the Germans best” 

The title of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich might not seem like the most appealing at this time of the January blues but it is precisely this kind of complacency that Bertolt Brecht was cautioning against, and that Phil Willmott’s production for the Union Theatre highlights so effectively. Written by the playwright in 1938, this collection of inter-connected vignettes shows both remarkable insight into how prejudice and paranoia were manipulated to allow National Socialism to permeate all levels of German society, and an alarming prescience in how such behaviour might persist even today. 

So in a series of scenes that jolt from farcical comedy to the darkest drama to pointed symbolism, Brecht takes us on a journey though the rise of jackbooted thuggery, overt anti-Semitism and bigoted political rhetoric. And the way in which people are browbeaten into submission – from the factory workers coerced into participating in fawning propaganda broadcasts to the parents anxious not to show their injured son too much concern after his release from a concentration camp lest they be reported for fraternising with the enemy – demonstrates the difficulties in trying to resist such a sea change, no matter how much one might recognise that it is wrong. Continue reading “Review: Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, Union”

Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva

“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. Continue reading “Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva”

Review: The Mother, The Scoop at More London

“When I die I want to be able to say this, ‘I never did anything violent’”

Paired with Around the World in 80 Days as part of the free theatre season at The Scoop at More London, Brecht’s The Mother is a little performed play from 1932 telling of a woman living in a Russia on the cusp of revolution who is forced into a new world of political activism when she sees how her own activist son is treated by the authorities. As she meets with his friends and begins to engage with their agenda, she finds herself on a journey of personal growth, as she finally learns to read and as her political consciousness is awakened and becomes impassioned, she becomes a figurehead for the movement that her son is part of.

Though it is a story that is ultimately advocating Communism, the decision to keep the setting fairly loose and not tethered too tightly to its original time and location frees it up hugely and consequently scores a huge resonance in its examination of the issues around political dissidence and the right to demonstrate in public, particularly for young people. Ravenhill’s translation has a punchy directness and humanity that gives the political discussion a very relatable dimension through the figure of ‘The Mother’, played with tireless grace by Nicky Goldie, her concern for her son accompanied by a growing outrage at how she perceives society to be rotten and pushes for change. Continue reading “Review: The Mother, The Scoop at More London”

Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National

Mother Courage and her Children sees Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner reunited once again at the National Theatre as part of the Travelex £10 season. Brecht’s play of a woman who is determined to make a profit from the war that surrounds her, even as that same war takes her children from her one by one, has been freshly translated by Tony Kushner and Warner has utilised the vast space of the Olivier to great effect to create something quite unique.

It is a fairly lengthy beast, the first half alone is two hours long, but neither I nor my companion felt that it dragged at all, I found the songs kept it quite pacey, and felt much the same during the second half (a mere hour long). There wasn’t that high a level of dropout after the interval which was quite nice to see and there was a strong reception for the players at the end. Much has been made of the introduction of Duke Special and his band but I have to say I thought by and large it worked. Personally, I was not as keen on the rockier numbers, despite Shaw gamely rocking out, but was genuinely moved by some of the slower numbers, especially when he was duetting with other characters. Continue reading “Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National”