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Performing Arts: Ubu Rex (Ubu Roi) ****.

Byline: Rebecca Nesvet

Aberystwyth Arts Centre

In Castaway Community Theatre's Ubu Rex (Ubu Roi), Alfred Jarry's bizarre parody of Macbeth sounds almost as raucously ridiculous and horrific as it must have to its original spectators.

When late on the evening of December 10, 1896, they spilled, dazed and infuriated, out of Paris's Thatre L'Oeuvre, a ``riot'' erupted, as director David Blumfield points out in the program notes.

In retrospect, Jarry's revolt against absurd ideologies governing the making of art, policy and war has been called the precursor to the 20th Century Theatre of the Absurd.

If you like plays of that tradition - such as Samuel Beckett's, Eugene Ionesco's, and Harold Pinter's - you would love Ubu.

If you don't, it's worth trying to see anyway because Blumfield's staging is exciting, provocative and surprisingly funny.

Blumfield casts six actors as Pa Ubu and six actresses as his dragon lady, Ma Ubu.

This adds an additional layer of chaos totally in keeping with Jarry's style and reinforces his insistence that the Ubus remain stock types instead of three-dimensional characters.

Jim Finnis, Simon Strain and Catrin Hughes stand out from the crowd as particularly strong yet playful speakers of Jarry's dialogue. Derek Ford as King Wenceslas is delightfully cavalier and naive.

Susan Chapman's Queen Rosamund sends up her own tragic pose wonderfully in lines spoken half in English and half in the original French.

The cast as a whole demonstrates that amdram productions can challenge actors far more than some professional ones, and that there are amdram actors who can, with the guidance of the right director, certainly rise to the challenge.

The design contributes to the carnival atmosphere established in Jarry's script.

The stage is painted to look like a giant Snakes and Ladders board and candy-coloured snakes' heads pop up through the floorboards at the feet of Ubu's throne. A series of platforms branch out from the stage into the auditorium.

Invading the audience's space, they serve as steps up to the final platform and the throne built on it, which floats on the sea of seats about halfway into the centre section.

About half of the spectators watch from risers upstage. With spectators on stage and set built over the auditorium, designer Rick Gough matches Jarry's breaking of conventional boundaries and the costume design is also original and startling.

So, then, what was Jarry trying to achieve in this play, the first of his Ubu trilogy?

Pa Ubu claims that his battle plan is to ``fire into the general melee.'' Maybe that was Jarry's objective.

Blumfield suggests as much in his promise, on behalf of the cast, ``to present Jarry's irresponsible lunacy ... in the most irresponsible, chaotic and unforgivable manner we can manage.''

Despite Blumfield's caveat, this staging needs no forgiveness.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 23, 2003
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