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Arturo Ui, Minerva Theatre, Chichester
THERE is something rotten lurking among the cauliflowers of Chicago.
A strange, oddly shaped vegetable; something peculiar that provokes laughter and mockery despite the stench of decay.
Buffoon small time gangster Arturuo Ui may be, however he has ambitions that include taking over the city’s whole vegetable industry – and then perhaps, the world.
Bertolt Brecht had fled from Nazi Germany and wrote his dark comedy on the rise to power of Hitler from exile in 1941. Despite his predictions that the dictator and his henchmen would fall, something far from certain at the time, the play was never performed during Brecht’s own lifetime even after he was proved correct.
Perhaps his time was just too close to the horror.
Today, even at this distance from the rise of such evil, his work has the power to delight and chill.
Certainly the first night audience for this new adaptation directed by Jonathan Church roared its approval following the climax of Ui’s rise to power amid a sea of blood.
Henry Goodman is outstanding as Ui. His comic gangster, part Inspector Clouseau, part Detective Columbo, a bag of indecision, gauche and ungamely, reduced the audience to tears of laughter. His attempts to learn speech and composure that inadvertently give birth to the goosestepping tyrant within, is a master class in clowning. Later, the transformation from figure of fun to cold, urbane killer is sublime.
Joe McGann plays sidekick Emanuele Giri who keeps the hats of his victims as souvenirs. Michael Feast is psychopathic killer Ernesto Roma and the gang is completed by baby-faced florist Guiseppe Givola played by David Sturzaker. Their resemblance to the Nazi hierarchy is marked and deliberate.
William Gaunt plays Dogsborough, the trusted, seemingly incorruptible city politician, seduced into fronting the gang’s schemes. The parallel with German President Hindenburg, who gave Hitler a veneer of respectability, is plain.
At its heart, the story of Arturo Ui is a cautionary tale of the evil that may lurk behind the clown’s mask. The production ends with a reminder that the warnings are as relevant today as they were 80-years ago.