The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui

Thu 21st – Sat 23rd November 2013

reviews

Kalil Copley

at 09:23 on 22nd Nov 2013

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Producer Leying Lee expressed a desire that we see this year’s Freshers’ Play as something more than just “cute”, and that we come away with a more positive sentiment than “awh, it’s nice that they tried”. Fortunately, selecting a satire on Hitler immediately negates any accusation of “cute”, and giving such a high calibre performance means we can hardly call their first night ‘trying’.

The 'Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui' follows the progression of the fictitious gang leader from fraught beginnings to mob boss of the cauliflower racket in Chicago and Cicero. The tale heavily satirises the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1930s Germany, and whilst it can be enjoyed on a farcical level, I would strongly recommend purchasing a programme for the historical insert, or taking a module on the Weimar Republic, either of which will explain the parallels.

George Rexstrew was stunning as Arturo Ui; a strong stage presence even when simply sitting and brooding in an arm chair, his rigid demeanour, concealing a barely restrained rage, captured the essence of the dictator (in case the red armband had not tipped us off). Rexstrew delivered each line clearly, despite having to deal with putting on a thick Chicago accent, especially during his explosive rants. The scene where Ui recites Shakespeare, I am both ashamed and delighted to say, sent shivers down my spine.

Similarly, Will Throp provided an excellent characterisation of Old Dogsborough, right up to his white hair. His impassioned monologues conveyed perfectly the tragic situation his character found himself in, and his moments of physical suffering were disturbingly realistic.

The commitment of those cast members who effected Chicago accents, coupled with the fact that I could still understand what they were saying, was laudable, providing that touch of authenticity in a way that would normally have me squirming in my seat. That this could not be achieved across the board was unfortunate, but only detracted from one or two moments.

Director Rohan Perumatantri did an excellent job. The tone of the play was perfect – delightfully vicious yet ludicrous. The dance scene paralleling the Night of the Long Knives caught me completely by surprise, and the baritone was enjoyably ridiculous. The make-up especially contributed to the satirical vein, playing a large role in establishing the sinisterly tragi-comic personas of Ui’s lieutenants. The set was kept to a minimum wherever possible, allowing the actors to convey the scene. Never had I imagined an entire dockside could be conveyed through a blue spot, a rain soundtrack and a strategically placed cauliflower. The crowd scenes especially were handled with dexterity: notorious for their ability to get out of hand, the stage never felt cramped.

All in all, I cannot recommend seeing The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui highly enough. It is a beautiful play, dealing with a brutal reality in an elaborate yet perceptive manner. It is a joy to watch, whether you want to figure out every parallel with the rise of Nazi Germany or just want to appreciate a maniac establishing a cauliflower racket. Whilst there is not space to attend to the ego of every actor in this production, I praise them all and do not doubt that they will go far in the Durham theatre scene. So come see them at their beginning.

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Emma Dooley

at 10:04 on 22nd Nov 2013

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In the producer’s note contained within the programme of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Leying Lee states that the Freshers’ Play is ‘often considered ‘cute’ in an ‘awh it’s nice that they tried’ kind of way,’ and goes on to express a desire to be thought of as more than this. Unfortunately the Freshers’ Play has some intrinsic problems that often prevent this from happening, despite the valiant efforts of a clearly talented cast and crew.

The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui is a play that deals with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power through a thinly veiled parallel of Chicago gangsters, written by a Marxist in exile in Finland in 1941, and as such a knowledge of 1930s Germany politics was almost essential in order to understand the plot. The important corresponding events were listed in the programme, but that meant that those who had purchased one were forced to constantly refer to it, and those without one were left completely in the dark. In most productions of the play a projector is utilised throughout to inform the audience of the major plot points, and a projector was present on stage and used in the play-but not for that purpose. Indeed the intended purpose of the projector when denied its primary function was something of a mystery, and the subsequent lack of understanding of the plot must have detracted from the power of the play somewhat.

Indeed the most notable difficulties the play had were technical, but that can be attributed not only to it being the first night, but also to some extremely ambitious artistic choices. Some of the these choices worked better than others, for example a fade in the final scene left a spotlight on Ui that worked well, whereas a threatening scene in a florists that should have been fluid jarred due to erratic lighting. Hopefully these difficulties will be ironed out in future performances.

The Freshers’ Play almost by definition has to have a large and diverse cast, leading to a very busy stage at times and leaving several people standing around with not much to do, ‘Villager 7’ style. This size and diversity was confusing at first, heightened by the fact that many parts in the traditionally male dominated play were played by females in various states of authenticity. Some seemed to be playing male characters, and others appeared to have changed the gender of their character entirely. This was not only confusing at times for the audience but also evidently the cast, at one point the line ‘…this very man…had her warehouse burned down’ was intoned in full sincerity. Having said all this, the cast was surprisingly well rounded, with nobody seeming weak or falling flat in any of their parts, however short their time in the spotlight was. There did seem to be a substantial number of English people in 1930s Chicago, but there was also an equal number of impeccable accents presented. The play seemed to work best however when just a few actors were bouncing off each other, creating the tension and satire required for material of this nature.

Of particular note in the performance department was undoubtedly George Rexstrew as Arturo Ui, on whose performance the entire play hinged. As has already been stated, there were many problems with this production, but all can be overlooked in the face of the sheer power Rexstrew brought to Ui. His performance ranged from the hilarious, in a scene where Ui learns to walk the walk and talk the talk, to the electrifying, as he utilised these new-found talents to terrifying effect. The play improved exponentially as Rexstrew came into his own, demonstrating Hitler’s rise with his traditional, chilling charisma exuding in every line.

All things considered, I do not believe the statements ‘merely the Freshers’ Play of 2013’ and ‘an excellent production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’ are mutually exclusive, as whilst this production showed all the characteristics of a Freshers’ Play for better or worse, it also contained some fantastic performances and provided worthwhile, if sobering, entertainment.

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