Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Rose Aitchison 8 November 2017

Aaron Kilercioglu’s production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is a triumph. Brecht’s darkly comedic parable portrays Hitler’s rise to power through the story of Arturo Ui, ‘an ordinary joe from the Bronx’ who takes hold of Depression-torn Chicago on a path littered with corruption, scapegoating and convenient deaths. This is a slick, youthful production that brings a pared-back freshness to the classic.

The set design from Shali Reddy and Stella Swain is minimalistic: a dockyard complete with bare scaffolding and ropes, with a graffitied brick wall backdrop, all skilfully constructed and ominous, and used to great effect by Kilercioglu’s clever use of space. Music and lighting from Johnny King and Lisa Bernhardt are deeply atmospheric and often blackly humorous; during the various scenes of the warehouse fire trial at the beginning of Act Two, an electronic funeral march is accompanied by pulsing blue lights, while follow-spots are put to excellent use in the introduction of the lovably evil cast of characters. Francesca Cosslett’s costumes are similarly stylish and symbolic. The pale grey suit of Tom Nunan’s grave deep-voiced Dogsborough and the white sweatshirt of his innocently chirpy son (Alex Franklin) stand no chance against the unforgiving black suits and loud ties of Ui and Roma, while the ‘little people’ (working-class men, such as Leena Meneely’s languid, impudent journalist Ragg) crouch in their grey shirts and flat caps.

The ensemble cast is utterly brilliant, with too many performances shining through to do them all justice. The expressions, physicality and quirks of the characters are all finely tuned. Henry Eaton-Mercer as the Announcer grabs the audience right from the beginning with fantastic energy and showmanship, following this up later with his alcoholic washed-up actor, whose solemnly balletic ‘Shakespeare’ walk is a comic highlight. Jordan Julien as the eponymous anti-hero is a sleek, grinning, charismatic Ui, entering with a cartoonish walk and twinkling with dangerous charm which transforms into a terrifying intensity during his political speeches. He forms a razor-sharp double-act with Clemi Collett, who plays Roma, Ui’s right-hand man, whose animated expressions (her eyebrows alone deserve a mention) and delivery are hugely entertaining. Ben Martineau’s scowling, growling bulldog of a Clark is complemented by Jessica Murdoch’s sprightly Butcher and Gabriel Wheble’s smooth, scheming Flake. James Coe’s suavely sinister, serpentine Givola, armed with a perfected smirk and limp, is a stand-out performance, joining Comrie Saville-Ferguson’s brash, laughing Giri in another excellent double-act.

Contrasted with Ui’s swaggering band are the pawns in their game. Eduardo Strike gives a passionate, despairing performance as doomed shipyard owner Sheet, while Chloe Booyens’ amusing turn as Dockdaisy, Ui’s unthinking mouthpiece, is echoed poignantly by her defeated speech as the widow of Oliver Jones’ Dollfleet. Jones himself gives a sympathetic performance as this rare source of moral fibre in the play.

Oozing with style, filled with stunning performances, and, of course, as relevant as ever in the Trump era, I can only avoid describing this production as ‘irresistible’.