Review: Ubu Roi

ZoƩ Barnes 20 November 2016

The minds behind “Cambridge Experimental” present a fun and playful farce and make a good effort to reinvent Jarry’s pataphysical masterpiece Ubu Roi in such a way that, above all else, it flagrantly resembles a theatrical interpretation of a Chanson Paillarde. It prioritises aesthetic over subtext, but the strength of the cast sees it through to a satisfying conclusion.

The energy and commitment of the cast was admirable, and mostly worked, even if lines got lost and there was often little light and shade in their way of expressing themselves. It works because you are struck by the sense that they hadn’t really been given the task of acting, but of presenting. Incoherent babbling like 'Allo 'Allo! on steroids actually added a certain something to the proceedings, and the conviction with which Ma and Pa Ubu expressed their characters pulled the audience along on a riotous spin through the highs and lows of King Ubu’s regime. Donald Trump: take note! Grainne Dromgoole as Ma Ubu is the highlight of the production and reacted well to stimulus, whether that was Henry Baxter in the titular role of Pa Ubu or a particularly shapely courgette. All the performers maintained intensity throughout, though none perfected the knitted brow quite as well as Jasper Vardag-Hunter in the role of Piles, bracing himself for the aneurysm that could have come at any moment.

There were too many cheap thrills, naked men deep-throating microphones and penises drawn on hands, to be hard-hitting or shocking. This deviated from the creative approach that might have come from injecting nuance and more inspired direction. Truly, only two things were uncomfortable – the salmon pink ponchos that clung cloyingly to the flesh, and the very real attempt to blind me with a handful of glitter. This was either a clever metaphor for the way in which we, as individuals, are blinded by the glitz and the three-ring circus: blind to real issues (the glitter was an act of war, ostensibly) and global political climate, then egotistically occupied with our own sight where we could be paying attention to the abattoir tableau onstage – or it was the fault of an overzealous cast member. Though willing to give this performance the benefit of the doubt, I want the head of the aforementioned cast member on a silver platter, preferably dipped in glitter.

This production was very good and much fun was had by all. It did slightly feel like it built up towards nothing in particular, and there was no climax, but that is not necessarily a bad thing in the case of plays such as this. It could also be the reflection of the fact that it is one of those shows that you could happily continue watching for hours, engaging in the most raucous ribaldry ever dreamt up and forced onto a Cantabrigian stage.