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The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui

Brecht's cautionary tale of fascism is a thought provoking triumph, says Heather Smith

Written by . Published on October 5th 2011.

The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui

IT’S all go at the Liverpool Playhouse just now and, as the centenary celebrations roll on, theatregoers are treated to the first big shot of the season: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

Liverpool writer Stephen Sharkey has translated Bertolt Brecht’s poignant 1941 parable that ridicules Hitler’s exponential rise to power. It was a task he clearly relished, for here is a script full of dark wit, sheer malevolence and the striking consequences of complicity where fascism is threatened.

The silent freeze-frame that wrapped up proceedings made you consider not just history,
but what could happen in the future if a discontented generation fails to fight its battles

Arturo Ui (Ian Bartholomew) is a delightfully demonic and dexterous anti-hero who craves power and celebrity.

At the outset, Ui is positively livid at his pathetic lack of notoriety and mob-life existence in 1930s Chicago. Come the curtain call, however, Ui is erect at his lectern, the symbol of political capability with popular support. Bartholomew is so good in the role that the audience are torn between emphatic whoops or boos.

Ian BartholomewIan BartholomewSatirical parallels are drawn heavily throughout. Basically Ui gets a whiff of the fear and greed within the wobbly “Cauliflower Trust” and the “Vegetable Traders”.

He encourages what are, respectively, landowners and middle class workers to put their faith in him and his actions, which, ultimately, they do. For the sake of saving money and pride the men unforgivably surrender and simply hope Ui goes easy on “the rough stuff”.

Lesson learnt: when it comes to fascism, failure to act at the lowest and seemingly insignificant level cannot be an option.

Brecht penned his original play in just three weeks and, occasionally, even Sharkey’s entertaining translation can feel a bit like a violent projectile outpouring of passionate feelings, parallels and observations.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the thought-provoking script encourages your mind to wander and before you know it, you’ve missed a bit and need to catch up.

What is more, the production is such a grand spectacle in itself that you can be both watching while blissfully unaware of what is actually being said. Ti Green has designed a slick set, among the best I’ve seen anywhere for depth, changeability and using multimedia in a way that doesn’t feel naff.

Mike Gunning has had his work cut out as lighting designer. With one bulb he created an enormous shadowy impression of Ui’s silhouette that would haunt the audience on the cusp of the interval.

Nick Cavaliere, Ian Bartholomew and Nick MossNick Cavaliere, Ian Bartholomew
and Nick Moss
The success of this show, though, has to lie with director Walter Meierjohann. So often it feels like a traditional drama master class. I’m talking masks, dance, mime and pristinely stylised scenes; there was even a man in tights (the totally charming William Hoyland who played no fewer than seven parts). All of these little things made the play and made the night feel like a truly authentic one at the theatre.

Maybe I hang around the wrong digs but I can’t remember the last time I saw a production that stirred such deep considerations about something.

Yes, the funny bits were just that, but the silent freeze-frame that wrapped up proceedings was chilling, serious and really made you consider not just history but what could happen in the future if a discontented generation fails to fight its battles.

And for that, Arturo Ui is surely a triumph.


* The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is at the Playhouse until October 22

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Prof ChucklebuttyOctober 5th 2011.

I have heardcomments along the lines of absolutely must see, and generally glowing reports on this production.

However I am annoyed that it will now overshadow my own upcoming production of "The No Resistance To The Rise of Mackello Hinney" At the Millennium Theatre. A story of what can happen when political leaders and officers have cabbages instead of heads. Sponsored by Bee Tea.

At the moment, I am still consulting with theatrical impressario, Harry Boot (Bottle of QC) about casting the lead role, as they first said the star of the show is totally unsuitable. Luckily with a few script changes, they have now changed that professional opinion to Totally Suitable.

I blame The Daily Post!

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