In these crazy times it doesn’t feel at all odd to be sat in a theatre belting out the Carpenters’ Close To You karaoke style as a potty mouthed, insane dictator ruins people’s lives. In fact, this singalong satire feels at times painfully too close to our own lives.
Mr Ubu has arrived in Lovelyville, with his equally ludicrous wife, and has a typically half formed plan to tear down newly elected President Dallas. Somehow this potty mouthed, self-absorbed clown with daft hair manages to do that thanks to combination of blatant wrongdoing, and the public’s indifference to his venality. Sound familiar?
As Ubu bounds around the bare wooden stage carelessly causing mayhem the audience is actively recruited into the fightback as the fourth wall is smashed down, and then ground into powder. Niall Ashdown’s genial host eggs on a game crowd to singalong to tunes bashed out by the house band, join in an Olympics full of silly games and even join an onstage battle as people swamp the stage to take sides in a daft fight.
It’s a tribute to Alfred Jarry’s anarchic play Ubu Roi, which sort of informs this, that his view that all of us should question the established order at every turn is still scarily relevant a century later. Legend has it the first performance of his show in Paris in 1896 sparked a riot, but here we are actively invited to kick off.
Modern audiences may be much less conservative, but Kneehigh play fast and loose with what the theatrical experience should be. This is far more of a gig than theatre as The Sweaty Bureaucrats blast out Anarchy in the UK before effortlessly switching to Britney’s Toxic as the tunes punctuate the onstage chaos. Somebody behind me said: ‘I’d love to see this in a dirty tent at a festival’, and it’s probably well suited to the festival world.
Katy Owen is a fizzing, impish bundle of energy as Ubu, full of involuntary physical and verbal tics, but this creature needed to be less a clown and much more a monster who we should fear rather than just laugh at.
This is a show that gleefully smashes theatre convention, but in the midst of all the froth and noise it does pose a question that is staring us right in the face every day – what would you do when faced with a populist moron only out for themselves?
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 4th February 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★