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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 13, 2008 @ 10:20 am

    Reviews: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – Abbey Theatre, Dublin

    Fiona McCann

    There is an astonishing moment in the Abbey’s striking new production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui that halts Bertolt Brecht’s splenetic parody in its tracks, a moment so chilling that icicles form in the air.

    Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as the mercurial Ui, a Chicago gangster and despot in the making, is taking ridiculous lessons from an image consultant – Des Cave’s washed-up actor – and playing with his mannerisms like a child with a loaded gun.

    Suddenly he hits on a particular gesture, a salute so familiar, so easy to lampoon, that it shouldn’t shock us. But it does.

    His arm held aloft with unnerving intensity, it slices through the innumerable references in Vaughan-Lawlor’s extraordinary performance – the crumpled posture of Richard III, the Runyonesque “Noo Yoik” accent, the hyper-animation of Charlie Chaplin – and delivers not just a stunning picture of Hitler but a lesson in the dangerous allure of spectacle.

    Jimmy Fay’s production may arrive suffused with contextual parallels, carrying echoes of the 1929 depression and political disaffection into the present day, but its depiction of Chicago gangsters muscling in on the cauliflower business places its satiric emphasis squarely on America.

    Conor Murphy’s design, a starkly impressive picture of industrial grey recesses lined with vegetable crates and meathooks, also finds room for American iconoclast Jasper Johns, whose American Flag looms over the stage, while Denis Clohessy’s thrillingly effective music extends a guest appearance to Jimi Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner , piercing though the play’s sham trial scene.

    Such criticism may seem heavy-handed, particularly when the American political narrative has just entered one of its most hopeful chapters.

    Similarly, Brecht’s allegory – written in 1941, before the true horror of the “final solution” – is stodgy with political detail, leadenly announcing its historical allusions, here delivered by George Seremba through a loudhailer.

    For all the anti-illusion and distancing dictums of Brecht’s epic theatre, Fay’s production is most absorbing for its rich and rough aesthetic.

    Presenting Ui as a 20ft judge, towering over a perversion of justice, may overstate the point, but it feeds the imagination.

    Likewise, whatever Brecht’s misgivings about the seduction of performance, it’s the cast who hold the attention like a vice.

    Ui’s clownish cavorting and paranoid twisting wouldn’t be so effective without Eamon Morrissey’s haunted stillness as the corrupted Dogsborough, or Aidan Kelly’s nerveless tough guy, Roma.

    Kate Brennan and Malcolm Adams also distinguish themselves among an excellent supporting cast.

    Ultimately, though, this is Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s show. His Ui uncurls at the play’s beginning like an awakening monster, tears through it with bravura (anyone who thinks he’s overdoing it should take a quick glance at the actual Hitler) and ends it on a pedestal surrounded by the corrupt, cowed and coerced. Brecht wrote the play to show how such creatures could be stopped.

    The charismatic demon and the appalling, enthralling momentum of the show seem to say the opposite. Resistance is useless. PETER CRAWLEY

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    • Terry McMahon says:

      Brilliantly directed by Jimmy Fay, this production is a staggering work, demonstrating everything theatre can be, but too rarely is. Boasting a central performance so overwhelmingly complex and terrifyingly charismatic, we should genuflect at the mere mention of Tom Vaughn Lawlor; his performance throwing down the gauntlet to every wannabe actor in this or any other country. I sh*t you not, he really is that astonishing. When so many Irish actors, with the obvious exceptions, are ham-fisted self-regarding imitators, Lawlor’s performance stands up there, shoulder to shoulder with the greats of all time. I suggest you do what Ui himself would have done, steal, mug, or kill to get a ticket to see this one-in-a generation actor rip a new a**hole clear through the Abbey stage into the hearts and minds of the audience, and onto pages of the history books. Terry McMahon

    • Eddie Collins says:

      Nah, once again the director finds himself out of his depth on the main stage. A mediocre play with appaling “Omerican” accents, though decently produced by Michael Colgan’s understudy.

    • Mudassar says:

      hi this message isnt anything to do with this review sorry but i was just wondering if anyone would beable to help me out. im studying The Resistible rise of Arturo Ui for my A levels in theatre studies and it would help me alot to see the play, could anyone tell me if there will be any showings of this play anywhere in Britian? it would help me alot

    • Alex Johnston says:

      I think that Terry McMahon greatly overstates the case, and Eddie Collins understates it.

      My problem with this production was that I just didn’t see the point of it. I can’t find anything wrong with it from a technical point of view, but what was the Abbey thinking? Fiach MacConghail never tires of talking about how theatre should be ‘relevant’, but what was relevant about this production? What’s the point of sticking Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Star-Spangled Banner in the middle of a play about Nazism? What has the play got to say to us in the early 20th century? Very little, I thought. I didn’t think it was a coherent production because all I could see was a lot of talented people working very hard, but no clear sense of why the play mattered and what everyone was doing it for.

    • The relevance of a bunch of gansters destroying a nation? The relevance of the national anthem being mutilated? The relevance to Ireland in the 20th Century? You give great credence to the the notion that nobody is blinder than he who will not see.

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