Brecht wrote The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in 1941, as a warning to the world about the rising power of Hitler's Germany. It is set in Chicago and Ui is a gangster who takes control of the local vegetable trade through corruption, coercion and violence, but whose fellow hoodlums (Roma, Giri and Givola) are recognisable parodies of Hitler's own associates (Rohm, Goering and Goebbels), while public meetings of the local Cauliflower Trust mirror Nazi rallies and the deliberate destruction of a warehouse – and the subsequent show trial – reflect the burning of the Reichstag.
In David Farr's fine production of this play the setting is moved to Africa, though the place names remain the same, reflecting the fact that we are not intended to see Ui as representing any particular dictator but as symbolic of them all. For me this approach succeeds admirably in drawing out the modern relevance of the play whilst still ensuring that we are reminded of Brecht's original message.
The stage itself is covered with sand – in this version of the play Ui frequently describes himself as a "son of the desert" - and Ti Green's set is simple, comprising mainly crates with pictures of cauliflowers on them (although items of more normal furniture are brought on stage when required). Signs are lowered from the flies to indicate locations and characters frequently introduce scenes. A fine African style score (by Keith Clouston) accompanies the piece and indeed is playing as you enter the auditorium.
Nyasha Hatendi makes a smiling but sinister Givola, whose flower shop at one point becomes the scene of an assassination, the victim of which is subsequently carried away in the flower-bedecked construction that has previously adorned the front of the shop. Anyon Bakare's Roma, whose downfall is plotted by Givola and Giri and who is murdered in the play's equivalent of the night of the long knives, comes back to haunt Ui like Banquo at the feast. Joseph Mydell is Dogborough (aka Hindenburg), the seemingly incorruptible figure who is nevertheless ultimately coerced into falling in with Ui's plans, whilst among Jude Akuwudike's roles is that of Dullfeet (aka Dollfuss) who represents the vegetable traders in the neighbouring town of Cicero (for which read Austria) but who eventually cedes control of his organisation to Ui.
Arturo Ui himself is superbly played by Lucian Msamati. Control of the Chicago vegetable trade at first appears to be the limit of Ui's ambitions, but we soon learn of his plans to annex Cicero and it is not long before he is calling on the services of a Shakespearean actor (played by Joseph Mydell) to teach him how to sit, stand, walk and deliver effective public speeches. And it is when displaying his new-found ability as an orator that he is at his most frightening, and never more so than when he lists, in the fanatical tones of a megalomaniac, the (real) places in Africa that are his future targets.
- Janet Polson
13 Mar 08
I never thought this was a great play (what Brecht plays are?!) and I'm not sure this new adaptation entirely works, but there is enough to admire and enjoy to make it a worthwhile visit. Lucian Msamati is a very good actor and I'd love to see him in something really meaty - Richard III? - Gareth James
11 Mar 08
I don't get the 4* WOS.com review at all. After two hours of catewauling I came out aching for the Brecht play that was lost in there somewhere. I still vividly remember a performance by Nicol Williamson long ago. Brecht's dark comic references to Nazism sparkled in that production set, as it makes most sense to, in the era of Chicago gangsters. I am not saying that directors shouldn't try different approaches, that surely is a good thing to encourage, but when it's not working they must have the courage to change tack. Better luck next time! - rds
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