Following on from a friend of mine seeing it, I decided to have a look and see if there were any tickets still available for “The Resistible Rise of Arturo UI” at the Donmar Warehouse on the date I was available in London with no solid plans. (Last Saturday) As it turned out, there was – just one ticket apparently “near the back”. That’s OK, I’m tall, so yep, ticket successfully obtained.
As usual with my theatre trips, I knew absolutely sod-all about the play. Indeed, I’d never even heard of it before the previous weekend. That doesn’t bother me anyway, and armed with a decent review from someone whose opinion I tend to trust, I was willing to go for it. All I knew was the name, and that it was by Bertolt Brecht.
And I’m really glad I did. The original play is an allegory based around the rise of Hitler in Germany, but using the gangsters of 1920s/1930s America to tell the story. It’s been updated a bit – there were lots of references to Trump and his collaborators, along with an (odd but effective) sung intro to each major scene, using modern(ish) songs.
It’s very hard to not see the parallels between Nazi Germany and Trump’s rise, so it all felt very relevant. But still interesting in a lot of ways.
The entire of the Donmar Warehouse has been changed for this production, and it’s been made into a 20s/30s speakeasy. As you walk in, the actors are already on ‘stage’ talking, dancing and the like. It certainly made things more interesting, having Lenny Henry come round in character as the club owner, talking to – and shaking the hands of – all the guests, as well as other cast members doing the rounds.
As an aside, one thing that was great was that a lot of the audience around me were a group of visually-impaired people, coming to the theatre for a play that would also be audio-described for them by a company called TalkingSense – and as it turned out, I got talking to one of the narrators, who was sat next to me for the first half, before going to narrate the second half. I thought it was brilliant to open up theatre in this way (and I also liked that Arturo Ui managed to use one of the visually-impaired people as his ‘witness’ for one section)
Ah yes, the audience participation. This was something really interesting, and not something I’d expected at all – this version of the play makes great use of the audience. In the photo above you can see a gallery with people on it – in the second half, these become the jury for a court case, with the judge sat in the middle. Another audience member became the railroaded ‘accused’, and by the end of the play everyone is involved, either standing in support of Ui’s bid to be the main gangster (sorry, “protector”) or sitting – in which case their votes don’t count.
Note – I’m not giving away anything major here – and the production ends tomorrow!
Lenny Henry is particularly impressive as the titular gangster, developing through the production. But he’s also well supported by a generally excellent cast – all of whom also seem to be enjoying taking part in the play. (Which isn’t always the case)
All told, it’s a very dark vision of life – yet also extremely funny. I laughed a lot more than I would have ever expected to, in a play based on the rise of Nazi-ism. If the run were longer, I’d probably enjoy going to see it again. It’s quite a thing.