The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui (Donmar Warehouse)

Posted: May 22, 2017 in Theatre


It is routine to be asked to switch off mobile phones before a show starts, but, when the request comes personally as an order from a threatening Lenny Henry hovering over your seat, you may be inclined to take particular notice. This is an immersive staging of Bertolt Brecht’s 1941 satire alluding to the rise of Adolph Hitler, adapted and given a modern twist by Bruce Norris. The actors mingle with the audience, audience members participate in the show and the Donmar’s regular seating has been replaced to create a 1930s Chicago night club.

Ostensibly, this is a gangster story, charting the rise of the ruthless eponymous anti-hero to rule over the cauliflower trade of Chicago and make a takeover bid for neighbouring Cicero.  However, the path of the story follows that of the arrival of the Third Reich in the Germany of 1933 and, subtlety not being a tool oft used by Brecht, it is glaringly obvious who Ui is meant to be.  Norris follows Brecht’s lead to make Ui an arrogant, shouting, arm-waving populist modern American politician. Who could that possibly be?

Henry is terrific as Ui, genuinely menacing and, in a sequence in which the mobster is taught deportment by a drunken actor (Tom Edden), he is hilarious. A lollop becomes a strut, the left arm shoots up to a Nazi salute and, then, slowly and deliberately both arms fold in the manner of someone in the news recently whose name still escapes me. Michael Pennington adds gravitas as Dogsborough, the upstanding citizen brought down by Ui and the company fill all the other roles enthusiastically. Director Simon Evans sets out to make Brecht fun and succeeds, finally sledgehammering the subtext home by unveiling a “Make America Great Again” banner. Ah, yes it’s come to me now.

Performance date: 16 May 2017

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