The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is Director Phil Rouse’s humourous take on Bertolt Brecht’s gangster racketeering of the cauliflower trade in 1930s Chicago. He finds a modern comparison between Shakespeare’s Richard III, Hitler’s rise to power, and Donald Trump’s political campaign circus.
The opening prologue directs the audience with a Brechtian ‘epic theatre’ overhead projection and clarifies the parallels. For anyone still doing the math, in the second act, Kim Lynch narrates from a clearly identifiable red text of Stephen Sharkey’s translation.
George Banders is the auburn haired young hipster version of Trump, minus the comb over. He’s a superb Arturo Ui, inspired by the ‘hunch–backed’ Richard III and a whining, awkward young Hitler.
Mobster Ui and his thug gangsters intimidate and murder all who refuse to pay ‘protection money’ in their struggle to control the cauliflower trade. Brecht’s characters and events are a representation of real life. Ui represents Hitler, his henchman Ernesto Roma (Peter Paltos), represents Ernst Roehl and Dogsborough (Kym Lynch) represents the wealthy and powerful Paul von Hindenburg.
The fire of the cauliflower Warehouse is based on the Fire of the Reichstag building and the work of the Communists and Socialists in February 1933. Theatre Works enjoyed a safe Pyrotechnics display from Assistant Stage Manager who has an appropriate surname, Taylen Furness.
Rouse proposes Brecht’s take on real life, with frequent references to the 2016 Presidential election. Ui orders Givola (Ben Clements) in ‘Al Capone’ style, to mow-down the betraying henchmen with a machine gun. I sincerely hope this does not become a reality in the current campaign.
In scene one, rows of obtrusive footlights blind the audience or should I say general public, while the players perform a spectacle of sexually explicit dance. The obvious metaphor suggests the current political environment.
Brecht’s significant storyline continues. Ui mounts his campaign assisted by Roma to secure his empire and own the Cauliflower Trust. As did Buckingham when he assisted Richard III in his political position to become heir to the throne.
This adaptation is heavy going with the dark undertones of a typical tragedy. I’m sure the Shakespeare aficionados’ will be delighted by Banders effortless delivery of his numerous Richard III quotes throughout the performance.
Rouse peppers the standard two-hour performance with relevant yet ridiculous comic relief. The Presidential campaign and Richard III comparisons’ alleviate the gloomy core themes.
Like any candidate, as Ui becomes more powerful, he improves his public image. He receives ‘elocution lessons’ from Basil (Kym Lynch). Basil is his very ‘camp’ instructor, who models expressive poses and walking techniques. He develops a remedy for Ui’s, ‘Richard III’, hindering hunchback. He maneuvers and straightens his right arm into the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute, and instructs him to walk with a distinctive high leg action. This session progresses into an amusing kneeling pose with his arms and legs forming the symbol of a ‘swash sticker’.
The predictable and inevitable ending of the tragedy is effective. Bander’s portrayal of a tyrant is memorable as was the almost flawless production on opening night. Rouse’s adaptation and message is clear and time will be the eventual judge.