Arturo Ui: Make Theatre Great Again

Arturo Ui: Make Theatre Great Again

I saw Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse recently. What’s that? You’ve never heard of it? Perhaps it’s because I’m calling the play by it’s German name. You should recognise the title character. I’m talking about the 1941 parable play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by one of my favourite playwrights Bertolt Brecht. His theatre is never straightforward. They’re always about something else. In this case, by using 1930 Chicago mobsters, he’s showing us the rise of Adolf Hitler. It was slow, subtle and deliberate; perfectly orchestrated and we let it happen. Given today’s various, cough cough, situations, I think we all need reminding that rises are resistible. Just because they walk the walk and talk the talk, doesn’t make them leaders. 
Hitler wasn’t one man but the face of the Nazi Party. Ui wasn’t one man but the face of his operation. He wanted power and he wanted to take it from the Chicago Cauliflower Trust. I studied this play a lot and know what should be done to get good grades at university and in my humble opinion this was sort of done correctly. The play was performed in the round not your traditional theatre setting. The rows of seats were taken out for tables and chair bar style. Nuts and nibbles were provided, much to my annoyance in the gods. I was peckish too. 
The 2017 audience weren’t totally lost in 1930. There were subtle and not so subtle hints towards a leader wanting walls, less immigrants and to make his country great again. There was modern music sung in the style matching the pinstripe suits and perfectly chosen to reflect the upcoming scene. However, it was terribly entertaining which is why I think it wasn’t completely Brechtian. They found the humour which helps with such a dark theme. People were getting manipulated and whacked left, right and centre. The director gave us tongue in cheek innuendos and some physical comedy which dragged us away from the point but it also had the meta nods to today’s dumpster fire. 
The point is resistance. Hitler and Ui were students, they learnt how to present themselves as charismatic and trustworthy. Just as the title suggests, we are allowing these unsavoury characters to rise. With the help of a programme, a little bit of research and spending more than an hour watching the History Channel or Yesterday, we know the sequence of events that lead to .. well, that. So what’s the harm in enjoying the show? Especially as we all are kind of in agreement that Trump is bad. So if we know these rises are resistable, the big question is what do we do once it’s already happened?

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