by Alfred Jarry.
Barbican (Silk Street Theatre) Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 20 April 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 243 0785.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 April.
Reinvention of something neither charming nor discreet.
Teenage Alfred Jarry loved to shock the respectable in his Ubu plays, of which this is the first. But the shock nowadays isn’t from his language, but how the invented story of a coarse bully overthrowing good King Wenceslaus, becoming dictator and destroying opponents and allies alike, resonates with modern political brutality. It’s the groups of increasingly frightened victims-to-be shuffling onstage that’s horrifying.
Declan Donnellan’s production, performed in French by the French wing of his Cheek by Jowl ensemble, reinvents Jarry in an elegant modern apartment. Designer Nick Ormerod provides a tasteful cream room, table laid for a small dinner-party. Host and hostess become mutually amatory during the final stages of preparation for guests. Their son, equipped with a video-camera, takes the prying eye on a tour of the flat, close-ups showing the mess linked to food, the dirt in the fabric of clothing and the dark-brown stains in the apparently pristine toilet.
On a casual glance, though, this, like the inconsequential chat when guests arrive, is polite society. There are echoes of Luis Bunuel’s 1972 film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which calmly yet thoroughly demolishes such society. Except Donnellan, like Jarry, is anything but calm. Whenever the hosts become amatory, lighting suddenly changes to jungle-green and the family take on the stiff stances of attacking animals.
At first it’s for a few seconds, but once the party’s started, the Ubu story takes over, while never leaving the increasingly messy room. And comically, the polite surfaces keep reappearing as violent conflicts resolve into polite, subdued table-chat, Davey Sladek’s more agitated music returning to the smooth tones of Charles Trenet’s La Mer as background music on the radio and Pascal Noël’s lighting switching suddenly from cold to domestic warmth.
Energetically played in all registers by the cast, Donnellan’s imaginative production employs Jarry’s shock tactics with touches of Bunuel’s straight-faced demolition to reinvent the play. And when cardboard violence gives way to actual shots, Bunuel’s Discreet Charm combines with the mystery gunfire of his later Phantom of Liberty, before the trashed apartment and ragged characters play the final dinner-party scene.
Père Ubu: Christophe Grégoire.
Mère Ubu: Camille Cayol.
Bordure: Xavier Boiffier
Le Roi Wenceslaus: Vincent de Bouard.
La Reine Rosemonde: Cécile Leterme.
Bougrelas: Sylvain Levitte.
Director: Declan Donnellan.
Designer: Nick Ormerod.
Lighting: Pascal Noël.
Composer: Davy Sladek.
Video: Benoit Simon, Quentin Vigier.
Movement/Associate director: Jane Gibson.
Voice coach: Valérie Bezançon.
Fight director: François Rostain.
Associate director: Michelangelo Marchese.
Assistant director: Bertrand Lesca.