Thursday, 1 March 2012

New Play by Exeter University Theatre Company - 'The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui' - Exeter Northcott 29 February - 3 March

The Full Cast of 'The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui'
In suits: James Bailey is Emanuele Giri (= Herman Goering)
Nicholas Limm is Arturo Ui (= Adolph Hitler)
Hannah Dunne is 'Clark', Leader of the 'Cauliflower Trust'
(= East Prussian Junkers)
Joe MacDonnell is Giuseppe Givola (= Joseph Goebbels)
Band: Robert Emmett, Mikey East, Laura Grist, Yuan Hu,
Philip De Iongh, Ben McNiff, Tim Spicer

The Exeter University Theatre Company (EUTCo) return to the Northcott just over a year after their successful production of Lawrence Till's 'Kes' (8-12 February 2011).

This year's production is somewhat more ambtious. Zac Price - the unforgettable 'Mr Grice' in 'Kes' - is this year's director. He has chosen a very challenging play. Bertolt Brecht's 'The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui'.

Brecht's play is about a gangster in 1930's Chicago who rekindles his fortunes by taking over and 'protecting' the vegetable trade in the city - which has been badly hit by the 1929 Wall Street Crash. However, the 'Cauliflower Trust', who turn to Ui for help, have a deeper significance for Brecht.

Brecht grew up in Bavaria and was just old enough to be called up for active service at the end of the Great War. However, his medical training meant that he was returned to Bavaria to provide treatment for returning soldiers - not for war-wounds, but for sexually transmitted diseases!

Brecht experienced firsthand the chaos of the Weimar Republic in Germany. During the twenties Brecht supported himself as a dramatist - his most famous work being 'The Threepenny Opera' which he produced with Kurt Weill. After the crash he observed the revival of the fortunes of Adolph Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeterpartei) - the Nazi Party.

German industrialists transferred their support to Hitler and his right wing policies. The German President, Paul von Hindenburg, was compromised by a government policy of financial aid to the Prussian 'Junkers' (minor nobility) who controlled the Prussian army.

The 'Osthilfe' ('Eastern Aid') policy, which Hindenburg helped initiate, was unfair to others in need - and Hindenburg himself had a property at Neudeck in East Prussia. Industrialists had bought the estate from Hindenburg's brother (who was heavily in debt) and presented it to the President as a gift in 1927. Unfair influence and a personal interest!

Perhaps because of his weak political position, Hindenburt finally agreed to appoint Hitler Chancellor in 1933. Brecht wisely left the country for Denmark at this point. Hitler and his party immediately set about dismantling the democratic government of Germany. The process was taken to Austria in 1938, when the 'Anschluss' ('Union') made Hitler the dictator of both countries.

As war loomed Brecht moved to Sweden. By 1941, as Allied and Axis forces battled for control of North Africa, and Hitler abandoned plans to invade Britain in favour of an assault on Russia (Barbarossa), Brecht was in Helsinki seeking permission to leave for the United States. In three weeks he composed the satirical tale of Arturo Ui and his depredations on the vegetable trade of Chicago.

Ui is a representation of Hitler, as we might expect. The 'Cauliflower Trust' are those Eastern Junkers. Hindenburg is represented by a senior City Councillor, Dogsborough (which in German would be 'Hundenburg'). Ernst Rohm, leader of Hitler's Sturm Abteilung (SA brownshirts) becomes Ernesto Roma, Goering - Emanuele Giri, Goebbels - Giuseppe Givola.

Cauliflowers might not sound a promising start for an aspiring gangster, but in times of serious economic crisis food supply can become a very lucrative 'protection' opportunity. The story of Ui's takeover is frighteningly realistic and credible. The underlying story is the reality of the experiences of Brecht's generation in Germany - which were even more terrifying.

The casting and direction by Zac Price is quite an achievement. The black stage of the Northcott becomes blacker still as the story plays out. Single spotlights pierce the smokey haze as plans are made and deals struck. Nicholas Limm, as Ui, is initially distraught at his diminished status as a Chicago gangster. However, with the opportunity offered to him by the vegetable traders he visibly gains in confidence - and ruthless, singleminded determination to gain total control.

In a parallel to Chaplin's parody 'The Great Dictator', Ui has elocution lessons - but the very distinct oratory style of Hitler wins out - a very clever scene.

Tom Chapman, as Roma (i.e. Rohm) is a very convincing 'running dog', efficient, trustworthy and loyal - but we know what happened to Ernst Rohm! Through Brecht's play Zac perfectly recreates the experience of that terrible double-cross - 'The Night of the Long Knives'.

Goering, who comes out on the healthy side of the deal, is played by James Bailey as Emanuele Giri. It is not initially clear that it is he, as James is tall and slim and, as Emanuele, he wears a sobre dark suit, unlike Goering's flamboyant pseudo-military uniforms. However, James' character matches Goering in cynical ambition. A very unnerving character.

Following his stunning performance as Jud Caspar in 'Kes' last year, Joe McDonnell returns in a new and even more frightening rôle. As Giuseppe Givola, he represents the 'poison dwarf' himself, Joseph Goebbels. Joe is very convincing as the brains behind the ruthless rise to power of Ui/Hitler. Tall and stocky, unlike Goebbels, Joe adapts himself by adopting a very convincing limp - representing Goebbels' shortened right leg and club foot. Goebbels' vindictiveness, guile and unsympathetic nature come out in every line.

One actor who must get a very special mention is Luke Theobald. Luke was the show-off games teacher, Mr Sugden, in 'Kes' last year. Now he is playing a very different character. Luke is Dogsborough. He is so convincing it is hard to believe he is still a student at the university. Full marks to the make-up team, but it is the incredible acting that makes it seem that an eighty year old man has been cast in the part. Luke is quite something!

Every scene is played in near darkness, with the black mood enhanced by Rob Emmett's band. Rob and his musicians provided the music for last week's production of 'Reefer Madness' by the Shotgun Theatre Company (22-25 February). Rob brought Mike East with is sax, Laura Grist with her drums, and Philip De Iongh with his double bass. Additional players were Yuan Hu, Ben McNiff and Tim Spicer.

The constant tick of Philip's bass - strummed or bowed - backed up the ominous words of the characters in every scene. Or was it the piano we were hearing, or the sax? It was hard to tell, as the band were barely visible in the darkness and the swirling haze of cigarette smoke. (Great special effects - full credit to the tech team, Isobel Heath and Dan Wiseman.)

Brecht's script is limited, of course, as he didn't know what would happen after 1941 - but he could guess. How does he see the story ending? You have to go to the play to find that out!

(Jolly Lion Review)

Exeter University Theatre Company
Exeter Northcott Theatre
Wednesday 29 February - Saturday 3 March 7.30pm
(Hitler's rise to power is reflected in 30's Chicago . . . )
Tickets £12 (Concessions £8 Students £5))
Box Office: 01392 493493
Online: Wed  Thu  Fri  Sat
Information: Laura Pringle - 07792 008 744

There is yet another student production to come this month at Exeter Northcott Theatre. The Gilbert and Sullivan Society have prepared 'Patience' for us. Last year 'The Gondoliers' was spectacular (Wed 9 March). This year's production will be just as exciting. Watch this space for details.

Exeter University Gilbert & Sullivan Society
Exeter Northcott Theatre
Tuesday 6  - Saturday 10 March 7.30pm
(Saturday matinée 2.30pm)
G&S's sixth opera, from 1881
'Patience' or 'Bunthorne's Bride'
Tickets: £10-16 (school groups 10+ £6)
Box Office: 01392 493493

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