first night

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Michael Earnshaw can't resist being impressed by this year's Fresher's Play

The Fresher’s Play is always interesting as a show. A lot can go wrong and a lot can go well, not least because the entire cast and crew have never worked together before. ‘The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui’ by Bertolt Brecht is definitely entertaining and so in my opinion has achieved the ultimate purpose of ‘Theatre’, in general, which is to entertain.

The play, set in 1930s Chicago, tells the story of a mobster (Ui) and his attempts to control the cauliflower trade through ruthlessly dispatching any opposition in his way. It is a highly satirical allegory for Hitler’s rise to power with many of the events in the play representing real-life events that happened in Germany and Austria at the time. Even the characters are all representative of particular people who worked for or opposed Hitler, my favourite being the clear play on words turning Hindenberg into Dogsborough.

The director, Rohan Perumatantri, has done extremely well bringing together a spectacular cast. There were a few hiccoughs such as missed cues and lighting blunders, but for a first night performance these were understandable and excusable in light of some truly outstanding acting. Most notably, George Rexstrew, as the eponymous Arturo Ui, gave a stand-out performance and displayed incredible skill. His portrayal of Ui was a pleasure to watch presenting us with a very stylised character. However, I feel more could have been made of the transition to statesman through a more accentuated change in physicality and demeanour.

Will Throp gave an exemplary performance as Old Dogsborough with lovely characterisation and an impressive vocal performance without any loss of clarity or diction. A few others who stood out for me were Sam Westwood and Lewis Picard who together portrayed a gangster duo. They played off each other well and they had a rapport you wouldn’t expect from people who only met three weeks ago. Likewise, Eleanor Stephens who played the role of the Announcer was great to watch. Right from the start she grabbed the audience’s attention with a confidence and flamboyance that was gripping.

The cast as a whole were superb, nevertheless, energy noticeably dipped towards the middle of the second act. Fortunately, this was rectified by an impressive speech from Ui, after which everything was restored to the high level of energy we had seen before.

Where I think the play falls short is as an example of Brecht’s ‘Epic Theatre’. Using the theatre as a way to change people’s minds about politics and to make them question their own understanding of current affairs was inherently part of Brecht’s mission and a fundamental aim of his. The play lends itself rather well to some obvious epic theatre techniques, unfortunately there was not much evidence of this and the techniques that were employed seemed to be done rather half-heartedly, in particular, the run of projections that occurred at the end of Act 2. The painted faces of Ui’s entourage were interesting as an attempt to alienate the audience from these characters, but the actual reasoning behind the Kiss and Ziggy Stardust inspired faces was lost on many of the audience members. Furthermore, the blackouts seemed to take a long time and there was often a feeling of restlessness in the audience which could have been easily solved by simply not having them. Brecht himself encouraged the practice of having the set being moved under full lighting as a way of breaking down the fourth wall.

Penny Babakhani made an impressive debut as TD. The sound was executed well and the lighting, while not being extravagant, was well thought out with only a few minor errors. The crew she assembled did an impressive job for people who hadn’t all fulfilled their respective roles before. My major complaint is that a few scenes featured actors with lighting directly above them, which cast their face into a lot of shadow making it hard to see, but this could have been just as much a mistake of actor positioning as well as lighting.

Nonetheless, in spite of the production lacking slightly in the ‘Epic’ dimension, the cast and crew have created a wonderful show. The acting is excellent and some of the talent on display is promising for the future of DST. The tech, while basic, was good and every person who worked on this show deserves massive commendations. This was my first trip to the Assembly Rooms to see a show this year and it was a fun evening and very entertaining. I fully recommend the show to everyone who wants an enjoyable night.

22 November 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
Our theatre that speaks for itself

DST is proud to be supported by: PwC