The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green savours Bertolt Brecht's biting satire long after the final curtain has fallen

The Resistible Rise of Arturo UiIt is quite surprising to find a satire written over 70 years ago that can still bite but this is indeed the case with Brecht’s darkly farcical – The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, revived in a first-rate Chichester Festival Theatre production, directed by Jonathan Church at the Duchess Theatre.

Hitler’s rise to power is filtered through the story of a bunch of hoodlums in 1930s Chicago. This was the era of the Great Depression, a time of fear and corruption and the perfect time for a small-fry crime boss – Ui- and his henchmen to make it big, seize power, an absolute power. Ui and his mob of gangsters run protection rackets for both workers and businesses. Soon Ui’s menacing shadow looms large, from the markets to the docks and across the city itself, and after taking control of the cauliflower trade in Chicago, they annexe the market in nearby Cicero too. It seems they can’t be stopped.

This play, with its razor sharp wit was written in 1941 but not performed in Brecht’s lifetime. The satire mirrors real figures such as President Hindenberg (Dogsborough), Ernst Rohm (Ernesto Roma) and Hermann Goring (Emanuele Giri). The evening is at its best when Ui decides to improve his presentation skills by taking “electrocution lessons” with a has-been actor and after this he morphs from hunched down, Richard III-like walk into a goose-stepping monster. In fact, despite the nature of its subject matter, the piece is consistently funny but the smile is wiped off your face in the final chilling moments when Ui rants over loudspeaker to the assembled crowd.

The production is visually striking and brings to mind the silent movies and gangster films of the 30s: the stage tableaux and gestural language of the cast have such clarity that you hardly need to listen to the dialogue to know what’s happening. Simon Higlett’s atmospheric set is all dark bricks, corrugated iron gangways and towards the end a giant podium is decorated with a swastika-like emblem.

But the evening belongs to Henry Goodman, giving an outstanding performance as the psychopathic protagonist of the title, dressed in a shabby green suit and with the trademark moustache, who is initially regarded as a comic figure, but gradually, by means of dirty deeds and smart self-refashioning comes to wield power, though always remaining edgy and insecure. He is supported by a fine cast including William Gaunt as Dogsborough, Michael Feast as Roma, Joe McGann as Giri and Keith Baxter as the actor.

This certainly is a production that lingers in the mind long after the final curtain has come down.


The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at The Duchesse Theatre, London

Runs until Saturday 7 December 2013

Box office: 0844 412 4659

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