Brecht’s darkly comic play about the ascent of the moronic, childish but charismatic gangster Arturo Ui should be relevant for obvious reasons. Bede’s production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is slick, humorous and very watchable, even if I did find myself longing for some of the scenes to pack more punch.
Slick, humorous and very watchable
It begins with the ghostly, larger-than-life figures of the Cauliflower Trust huddling onstage, with their faces painted white. The production has a clear vision and it works. The pace is relentless, the movement is tightly choreographed and the gangsters leer like cartoon villains. It has an otherworldly tone, which is very fitting. It keeps up the comedy.
I was also struck from the start by the charm and energy in the young cast. All the actors are able pull off fast-paced comic movement, tightly focussed ensemble scenes and do it with style. The dockyards are crowded and the gangsters have swagger and charisma. There are some excellent comic performances, particularly among the gangsters and notably Max Mason as The Actor. I also enjoyed India Park’s weatherbeaten vulnerability as Dogsborough, which provided a change in pace.
It leans into a cartoonish tone very heavily. While this production carries it off well, I’m not convinced this was the right way to go with this piece. Brecht, for all his wit, wasn’t really made famous as a comedian, and there are clearly some heavy punches that this production could easily have packed. It’s a study in political power.
For example, Alyssia Smith as Arturo is humorous and fun to watch. However I neither got the sense of a true menace of this character nor the sense of the demons that haunted him. Scenes like when Dullfeet is murdered and the gangsters confront his grieving wife have their edge dulled because the antagonists are pantomime villains. It’s a shame – these scenes could have been given much more gravity without sacrificing the stylish choices of the production or the pace.
Another bizarre trick the play pulled was the use of a fast-forward button to make the actors speak the lines in double time when the play becomes too cumbersome for a 1 hour 30 time slot. While this was slick and fun to watch (they were out of breath when they came back to normal pace) it was not clear at all why they didn’t just cut the weaker sections.
While The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui remains as relevant as ever, as a study and satire of the character of power this production slightly misses the mark. However the talent and energy in both the cast and the overall vision made it worth the watch.