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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Duchess


  Henry Goodman/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

There is nothing subtle about director Jonathan Church’s irresistible production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. In a translation by George Tabori that has been “revised” by Alistair Beacon, Brecht’s scathing Nazi satire, written in 1941, emerges as an in-your-face, mock Shakespearean epic whose eponymous "hero" is a little man who, with the willing compliance of several of his henchman, is able to transform himself into the Mr. Big of death and corruption.

Any resemblance between Ui (Henry Goodman) and Adolf Hitler is purely intentional. In Brecht’s caricatural take on Der Feuhrer, the setting is Chicago, and instead of the unification of Germany, Ui and his grotesque henchman are hell bent on securing, for power and profit, the unification of the city’s vegetable market in general and its cauliflower trade in particular.

Bolstered by the thugs in thrall to him, Ui develops from a timid nobody afraid, almost literally, of his own shadow, into a plausible, mesmeric orator secure in his attempt to intimidate not only Chicago and neighbouring Cicero, but, in time, the whole world. Indeed, in the best sequence in the play, we see Ui being schooled in the art of oratory and body language by an old Shakespearean ham (the excellent Keith Baxter) culminating in the Nazi goose-step and with all Hitler’s defining arm and crotch-hugging- gestures fully in place.

It’s the funniest, laugh-out-loud 10 minutes in the West End and brilliantly demonstrates the versatile Goodman’s supreme comedic abilities. With, among other things, its wicked parody of Marlon Brando’s Mark Anthony in the 1953 film version of Julius Caesar as well as a nod in the direction of Python John Cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks, it’s as hilarious as anything in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

But the mood darkens considerably in the second half when the lampooning of Nazi thuggery inevitably removes the smile from one’s face with in a theatricalcoup d’etatthat carries the grim, climactic warning that "the bitch that bore him [Hitler] is in heat again."

First seen at this year’s Chichester Festival, Church’s staging, in an excellent set by Simon Higlett, and employing a talented cast of 19, including Colin Stanton, William Gaunt, Michael Feast and Joe McGann, is impressively free-flowing and engagingly evocative of the many gangster melodramas Hollywood churned out in the 30s.

All the same, with a running time of nearly three hours, it’s about 20 minutes too long. There are occasions when one can have too much of a good thing, and although the show never quite outstays its welcome, at times it comes perilously close. That one quibble notwithstanding, this is one terrific evening in the theatre.


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