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The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Henry Goodman "drips technical virtuosity" in Jonathan Church's production, which gives an evening of "genuinely epic entertainment", says Michael Coveney

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Henry Goodman and Michael Feast
© Manuel Harlan

It could too easily be forgotten that when Bertolt Brecht wrote this great prophetic gangster parody of the rise of Hitler in the late 1930s the worst was still to come (or, at least, to be revealed).

At the end of Jonathan Church's stinging Chichester Festival revival, first seen in the Minerva Theatre in June 2012, Henry Goodman peels off his moustache and delivers the epilogue himself. You suddenly feel that our politicians might have been wrong about not intervening in Syria.

And using the trusty old translation of George Tabori, Alistair Beaton's nifty new version, with plenty of new jokes, finds echoes in our own financial crisis as the wholesale greengrocery trade is squeezed by the bankers, unions destroyed and state capitalism co-opted to private enterprise.

Above all, the play is a study in tyranny. Goodman presents a terrifying madman, bursting through the Scarface poster but comically catching a piece of it in his mouth, crouching nervously at any knock on the door, rampantly paranoid in seeking protection from his own protection racket. Even more hilariously – though the smiles soon freeze on your face – he plays Ui sort of, well, Jewish.

Goodman's not a lovable actor. His Ui doesn't have the transcendent, blissful absurdity of Leonard Rossiter's, or indeed the manic charisma of the most famous Berliner Ensemble Ui since Ekkehard Schall, that of Martin Wuttke in Heiner Muller's great production.

But he drips technical virtuosity, the tools of his command, and you watch certain sequences with jaw-dropping disbelief: when he hires Keith Baxter's glorious old ham actor to give him "electrocution" lessons, he develops his goose-step and arm gestures with the detailed delicacy of a ballet dancer on eggshells; and he prepares to receive Betty Dullfoot (beautifully done by Lizzy McInnerny) by sliding around, over and under a piano like a silken marionette.

The brutal succession to Hindenberg, the grabbing of the chancellorship, the burning of the Reichstag and the annexation of Austria are as vividly conjured as the St Valentine's massacre, the garden scene from Faust, Mark Antony's funeral oration ("lend me your fears") the wooing of Lady Anne and the haunting of Richard III.

And the tiny Duchess has been annexed, too, with Simon Higlett's design making good use of a catwalk through the stalls for marches and funerals, the dragging of a dead witness, or the parade of the cauliflower traders posing as gum-chewing hoodlums from the Bronx.

In a large cast of eighteen, Goodman is surrounded by experts in applying the "frighteners" such as Michael Feast's serpentine Ernesto Roma, Joe McGann's "persuasive" Emanuele Giri, Colin Stinton's compromised Ignatius Dullfoot and William Gaunt's monumental Dogsborough; it's an evening of genuinely epic entertainment.

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