We went to the theatre this evening to see Ubu Roi
at the Warwick Arts Centre. R came home to see it with us, but my ticket was even cheaper than hers, as I get a discount for being a Warwick student. How cool is that?
The play was in French - it's a French play, after all - and there were surtitles above the set. The cast were extremely clear-spoken, however, so it was not at all hard to follow.
The production company is Cheek by Jowl, a British company, but working with French actors attached to the Bouffes du Nord Theatre - this is a pretty big deal, as it's where Peter Brook has been based for the last three decades and more. The play was written, astonishingly, in the same decade as The Importance of Being Earnest
, though it couldn't be more different. Jarry, the playwright, envisaged puppets, or actors moving like puppets, and used a style full of near-obscenities ("merdre" rather than "merde", for example) and huge, larger-than life characters - almost like pantomime or Commedia del'Arte. The story is of a respected general who murders his king and steals his throne (sounds familiar?) egged on by his wife - but it all goes wrong. It's a satire on power and corruption, something this performance emphasised by framing the action of the original play in a genteel Parisian dinner party - the son of the family using a videocam to film the room and its inhabitants - with a direct feed to a projector, so that it was all projected onto the rear wall of the set. He went backstage and we saw activity in other rooms of the house - some very nifty editing there.
Lighting changes signified the shift from the naturalistic dinner party to the bizarre world of Ubu, along with dramatic music (lots of 19th century opera music and other orchestral big numbers), with spectacular use of a gobo to create whirling snow at times. The set was steadily trashed, with food flung all over the place, a sofa turned into a cave, a cushion "ripped" to reveal bright red viscera, a lampshade used as a crown and a range of kitchen implements used as weapons. The acting style and movement switched as abruptly as the lighting did, so that there was a real sense of a vicious inner personality being revealed. It made the central message of the play into something dealing with the corruption and murderous instincts buried deep within us all, and the hypocrisy and shallowness of "civilised" life. The use of an introductory soundtrack culled from today's France Inter radio - all about Hollande and Mali - really emphasised that, and the applicability of the play to the twenty-first century.
The audience was sadly rather small. This was an intellectually and emotionally interesting play that deserved a full house.
I felt slightly smug that I was able to see the play for so little. I really must start using this perk a bit more.ETA:
Interesting review with further details here
Tags: theatre trips