at Warwick Arts Centre, Friday 3rd December 2010
There is always a risk when putting on a production of a play written by Brecht. Do you stick religiously to Brecht’s theories, or simply take the text and run with it in your own interpretation? Although Warwick University Drama Society’s production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, under the direction of Josh Roche, is superbly performed with full gestus, the acting style seems to be a means without an end in the absence of an overt political angle.
Arturo Ui is the ultimate allegorical play. Depicting the rise of Hitler, this production has been transposed to Greenwich from the original Chicago setting, using episodes based on real events to satirically portray his climb to power. We watch as the manipulative Ui plays games with his followers in order to take control of the Cauliflower Trust. Here, however, the character of Ui has been split into three; left, right and centre, supposedly representing the three sides of the protagonist. A clever idea, but one which is not highlighted or explained enough to make it worthwhile; what point is being made here?
The production is made by the performances. There is not a weak link among the ensemble cast and astonishingly not one ever strays out of character, mannerisms and all. As the left, centre and right incarnations of Ui, Ed Davis, Tom Syms and Stewart Clarke are strong and charismatic, towering over others both physically and vocally. James Sheldrake as Dogsborough bumbles away hilariously and Lizzy Leech as the Chief Clark always looks somewhat bewildered as to what is happening around her. Givola and Giri played by Rob Beale and Joe Boylan respectively are both wildly eccentric and somewhat disconcerting. The use of gestus throughout is hilarious and each character is perfectly defined.
But what use is gestus if we are not made to think? Yes, posters are dotted sporadically around the stage and the prologue and epilogue serve to alert us to a few points, but we never find out the implications for us. Of course this is difficult with such a highly analogous play, but we constantly yearn for some sort of didactic message. It sometimes feels like the performing style has been incorporated simply for the sake of humour, but when we know this isn’t the case it becomes frustrating that the major themes aren’t highlighted.
This said, however, all aspects of the production are faultless. Rosie Bristow and Ashleigh Brown’s set, costume and make-up go hand in hand to create a vivid image, lit effectively by Lizzie Drapper’s lighting design. Matt Wells’ music ranges from ethereal to joyous and complements the rest of the production with gusto.
This is an accomplished and slick production, with a multitude of excellent moments, especially towards the end of the play (Ui’s final speech, for example, is genuinely powerful). It cannot be stressed enough how excellent the performances are, which is why it is such a shame that the message never truly comes through. With a little more signage and more focus on the language, this would be a production of which Brecht himself would be proud.