The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva Theatre, CFT Chichester, July 2012

Bertolt Brecht wrote this play, parodying Hitler as Chicago mobster Arturo Ui, in less than a month in 1941 while awaiting his US visa in Helsinki. Other main characters represent various people Hitler either used or killed to get where he was. Its didacticism is intended for an American audience, and although the first act dragged a bit, the second proved to be far more riveting, and the acting was superb.

Nightclub musicians at the start, all images Manuel Harlan

Henry Goodman in the title role gave an extraordinary performance, showing a hunchback worthy of Richard III, and comic elements worthy of Peter Sellers. After a row among his accomplices when he says, “I want what’s best for you. And I know what’s best for you!”, he is left alone, and the scene with the piano was pure Inspector Clouseau. This is followed by a magnificent coup de theâtre brought on by the dramatic appearance of a 1930s car at night with headlights blazing.

Ui and right hand man Roma

William Gaunt gave a fine portrayal of the highly respected Dogsborough (Paul von Hindenburg), and some of the low-life Chicago accents were brilliant, particularly Michael Feast as Roma and Joe McGann as Giri (representing Ernst Röhm and Joseph Goebbels). Helpful notes in the programme tie the various scenes to historical facts from Hitler’s rise to power up until the Anschluss with Austria, represented here by the Chicago suburb of Cicero. In reality Cicero was ethnically Czech, but fiercely independent of Chicago, as Brecht doubtless knew. Lizzy McInnerny as the powerful lady of Cicero, wife of the murdered Dullfoot (Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss), made a welcome female addition to an mostly male cast, and her interactions with Hitler — I mean Ui — were carried off to perfection.

Ui on the way up

This excellent production by Jonathan Church ends with the dictator on a high podium, from which the cover is later torn off revealing the means by which he arrived there. In the meantime we have been treated to wonderful theatrical effects, well lit by Tim Mitchell, with very effective designs by Simon Higlett, and music by Matthew Scott that includes excerpts from Wagner: Siegfried’s funeral march in Act I, and the Pilgrims’ march from Tannhäuser just before the end.

The play was not staged until 1958, after Brecht’s death, but with the rise and fall of numerous dictators today — some comical like this one, some less so — productions are surely welcome. And finally the text allows Henry Goodman to remove his moustache and utter the ominous lines, “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is on heat again”.

Performances continue until July 28 — for details click here.

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