Theatre:The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui  

The lovely Duchess Theatre was filled with a mixed audience of young and old for the London run of Bertolt Brecht’s study of politics and power in a much-heralded production revised by Alistair Beaton and directed by Jonathan Church.

Written as a farce to show the rise of Hitler, the play still talks loud and clear to a modern audience that is bruised by recession and the exposed frailties of the Establishment.

Brecht never saw this work performed in his lifetime – Alistair Beaton remarks in his programme notes that he ‘may have been afraid of the explosive political content’ so maybe we’re far too cynical now. The closing lines hit you between the eyes in blunt but true vulgarity and leave you in doubt about the dangers of the rise of the little man.

A large cast sets the scene in tough guy Chicago, where protection rackets grow to safeguard the city’s vegetable traders. On one side is the bumbling Arturo Ui (John Goodman) who manages to convince traders of their need for protection thanks to his reputation, some luck and more than a little violence; on the other is the corrupt establishment headed by Dogsborough (William Gaunt). It is a power struggle between two men – Ui is clever enough to take PR lessons from an actor and as his influence increases, he physically grows in stature.

This is no farce in the traditional sense but an often uncomfortable reading of human nature and our relationship with our leaders. It’s not for everyone (the chap next to me fell asleep and left at the interval) but for those who stayed it was a brave choice for London audiences more used to classic Shakespeare and the musical.  The play runs until December 7th – Catch it while you can.