Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Trial of Ubu 28th January 2012

Who's in it? Nikki Amuka-Bird, Josie Daxter, Kate Duchene, Paul McCleary, Rob Ostlere and George Taylor
Where did you see it? Hampstead Theatre

The Trial of Ubu, written by Simon Stephens and directed by Katie Mitchell, is a fictionalised tale of French writer and playwright Alfred Jarry's 19th century dictator King Ubu being put on trial for war crimes in the Hague in the 21st Century.

Jarry's Ubu Roi was first written when he was 15 with some school friends and eight years later, when all the friends had moved on from the work he produced a play, that was deemed to vulgar to be played by actors so it became a puppet show.

What we get, in what I hoped was a serious drama about the war crimes process with a fictional antagnonist, is a puppet show for what feels like forever but probably only lasts 15 minutes. The problem, possibly due to translation. is that Ubu is vulgar and is obscene but the puppet show as a childish, immature element that completely is at odds with the rest of the play.
Paul McCleary as Ubu and Rob Ostlere as his guard

Once the puppet show has ended; which gives background to Ubu's rise to power, his domineering wife and all the attrocities he commits as King we are then "treated" to the live action performance. Set in a interpretors booth. Nikki Amuka-Bird and Kate Duchene have lovely voices but we learn nothing more about them. Through them we learn what is being said in the trial and for me this loses any impact Ubu's (fictional) crimes should have on the audience; sexual assault, murder of men, women and children. He kills bankers, which I think is meant to make us warm to him...

The main issue is the direction. Last year, as London went through the worst riots it had seen for thirty years I went to see A Woman Killed with Kindness at the National Theatre, directed by Katie Mitchell. I hated that and I hated this. She has this awful 'SPEED it UP, SLOW it DOWN' technique, which doesn't just get boring it gets irritating. She also has a habit of moving plays from the period they were set in. I have no idea who to blame for ridiculous references to events that happened 98 YEARS ago. The play's big dramatic moment is Ubu listing all the attrocities that have happened since Jarry wrote his play. Why didn't Stephens write a play looking at what would have happened if Hitler had survived to be trialed at Nuremberg or Milosevic if he had not had that heart attack. Stephens desperately wants this play to have heart and pathos. It has badly written characters and wastes them when they do appear on stage. Paul McCleary as Ubu (in Heath Ledger Joker make up) is underwritten and not given the chance to say his own lines (as they are read to us by Amuka-Bird or Kate Duchene).

To be blunt I don't recommened this play. I certainly don't recommened playing £29 to see it or even the £12 I did but it was only 80 minutes if you decide to ignore me.

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