Ubu on the Table

La Pire Espèce have been rummaging in the cupboards: in Ubu on the Table coffee pots, cutlery, a glass jug and drawers full of unassuming objects populate the cast in an energetic object theatre version of Alfred Jarry’s late nineteenth century surreal tragedy Ubu Roi.

At its most gripping, Ubu on the Table allows that movement of imagination between object and character that is the engine of object theatre

For audiences not familiar with Ubu Roi, the plot has an arc with a Shakespearean familiarity: a king, a usurper (the titular Ubu), and a manipulative power-hungry wife. The story is a revenge tragedy, absurdly undercut with the puerile and deranged (particularly, by the scatelogical). It might put English language audiences in mind of Edward Bond.

At its most gripping, Ubu on the Table allows that movement of imagination between object and character that is the engine of object theatre. We see not only that the shape of the object can rise to the form of the character, but also that the shape of the character can bend to the form of the object. Through the the shape of a hammer, the Ubu’s heavy-man Captain Bordure becomes blunt-faced, rigid-spined, brutal, hair-slicked-back. There were seconds during this show that we can believe, intently, that an upside down coffee pot can mourn. It is not just a stand-in, it is the character.

Curiously though, Ubu himself, played by a two-thirds full glass jug, is decorated with a well-defined face, rather than animated in a way that only implies one. At the centre of the plot and action is an expression that is fixed for us, rather than being malleable by our imaginations. Something of the tension of object theatre dissipates when our eyes settle, therefore, on the central figure: sometimes this can be a big drop.

Other things delay or deplete the tension too. The source material is already surreal so the extra absurdity of object theatre does not necessarily seem transformative. Much in the middle of the play does not further plot or knowledge. It meanders and diverges - and whilst it might do so with frantic energy - this can mean that it sometimes plods.

Ubu on the Table eventually winds round to a big, messy, chaotic finale. The puppeteers pile everything into the final pitched battle: not quite the kitchen sink, but certainly all the washing-up therein. The sequence feels epic: high-stake while unremittingly silly; cluttered but clear. For the last few minutes it all happens at once: not just all of the action, but all of those little leaps of faith and imagination that we need to really invest in utensils vying for power.

Reviews by Tom Moyser

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The Blurb

In this award-winning adaptation of King Ubu by Alfred Jarry, anything goes as Poland's fate is sealed on a table top! Starring the Bottle as Père Ubu, the Hammer as Bordure, the Big Teapot as King Wenceslas, and many others, your kitchen gear finds a new life as two performers hammer out a small-scale fresco of grandiose buffoonery. With hundreds of performances around the world, this greatest hit of La Pire Espèce is proud to make its UK debut. ‘Humorous and inventive, Ubu on the Table tickles the funny bone and the imagination’ ***** (Voir).