The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui | Theatre WorksLeft – Luke Mulquiney, Jennifer Innes and George Banders. Cover – Peter Paltos and Ben Clements. Photos – Ross Waldron

Amongst other things, Berthold Brecht’s 1941 The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui brings to mind the scandals of about 16 years ago associated with fruit and vegetable sellers at the Footscray Market. Fortunately for Melbourne, the ramifications of skulduggery in Footscray were limited.

Not so in the depression-era Chicago (forever defined forever by prohibition and the mafia) of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, a play actually about the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. Brecht’s story of the takeover of the Chicago grocery trade by a local gangster whose modus operandi is fear mongering also makes you think of right now, and this production, so stylishly and sharply directed by Phil Rouse, makes gleeful use of the current political climate in the US and the West in general. (Substitute ice for cauliflowers and you’ve got another layer again.)

The play answers that perennial question about fascism and totalitarianism –‘how could it happen?’ Good people stop telling the truth and compromise themselves through fear and greed to start doing business with bad people, allowing bad people sufficient power and money to force the hand of their opponents and eventually to eliminate them. Ui (played here with orange face and big blonde hair by George Banders), says, "If anyone is not for us, he's against us and only has himself to blame.’ Sound familiar? The script references actual events during the years of Hitler’s rise to power, for instance when Ui shakes the hand of aging politician Dogsborough (Kym Lynch) – Hitler and President Von Hinderburg and a video overheard makes the parallels clear, a welcome device.

The Resistible Rise of Artuto Ui is a long complex play (with interval) featuring many characters and the plot can seem confusing to begin with. The actors double up, with the exception of Peter Paltos who plays Ernesto Roma (Ernst Rohm). Giuseppe Givola (Joseph Goebbels) is played by Ben Clements, and the rest of the cast includes Kasia Kaczmarek, Ciume Lochner (as Emanuele Giri – Hermann Goering), and Josiah Lulham.

Fashion and music from the 80s (and earlier) are referenced in this energetic top notch production, which offers hilarity and subtlety in equal amounts. All the performances are good and strong; it’s a gripping and prescient production all the way through. Comically delicious moments include Ui getting lessons in deportment from an old thespian (Kym Lynch) and then delivering a speech from Shakespeare’s Richard III. The language of the play is sophisticated and ranges in tone, heightened and varied, underscoring how it can easily be used to bamboozle and impress. (Bamboozle and impress us.) Excellent work, nicely staged, well-paced, standout direction and performances. 

Theatre Works presents
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
by Bertolt Brecht

Directed by Phil Rouse

Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Dates: 25 August – 10 Sep 2016
Tickets: $35 – $26
Bookings: | 03 9534 3388

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