Alfred Jarry’s original play UBU Roi was received with outrage by its 1896 audiences, opening and closing on the same day. This riot inducing satire was seen as a condemnation of the political climate of the time. The world in which we now live has been through its own fair share of political heartache, not least of which, that which we are currently experiencing and have done tirelessly for the past three years! So, in what feels like the longest month that ever existed, and living in fear and wonder of the uncertain future (regardless of our political views of what is going to happen after the 31st of January), Kneehigh’s UBU is a political satire which couldn’t have been more relevant and perhaps that it why it felt so special.
Arriving at the Lowry Quays theatre, there was no usual pre-theatre drinkers in the bar area outside and the entrance was littered with political placards and banners in protest and celebration of whoever this ‘UBU’ character was. Entering the Quays theatre, it looked completely different as it had been stripped of the stalls seating and replaced by a raised, wooden stage. Audience members mingled with cast and crew, making props to wave throughout the performance, whilst others got drinks from a bar (which operated in the auditorium and throughout the show). This promenade performance, complete with host and live band, was going to be something very different indeed.
In fact, I may go as far to say that Carl Grose, Charles Hazelwood and Mike Shepherd’s concept left me feeling as if I’d been invited to the party of the decade! From the outset, Kneehigh tackled the issues of the modern world of theatre head-on. We were allowed to wander, go to the bar, chat, heckle and use our mobile phones to document the evening. But most importantly we were encouraged to singalong. . .after all, that was what the title suggested! And despite there being a bar, I didn’t use it. The exhilaration from belting out karaoke songs from Britney Spears Toxic to The Sex Pistols Anarchy in the UK, left me feeling high of the happiness of life. It was whilst this party was going on, none of us noticed the drama unfolding before our eyes; of a dictator assassinating his predecessor, introducing new taxes and generally making life horrible for his subjects. It was so clever how the entertainment factor masked the dark truth of the content and that whilst tragedy was unfolding, we were having fun playing team sports around the theatre and not caring for the destruction of an entire nation in the drama.
There were slow moments also and these were dealt with with equal poignancy too. And it was in these moments, when I realised that we were all part of this parody, that our own lives are too busy enjoying the finer things whilst those at the top are making everyone else’s lives miserable at the bottom! But amidst the theatrical anarchy, one message kept coming back loud and clear and that was that our shared experience here was a way of dealing with our shared fear of change and how if we just stick together and hope for the best, our world might just be ok. I could not have agreed more with the message of this production and the feel good factor it gave us, to help deal with the coming weeks, months and years of political change.
Kneehigh are an outstanding company who produce brilliant theatre. The entire company (and there were a lot of them) created an incredible performance but it would be remiss of me not to mention the central role of UBU, played by Katie Owen. She was phenomenal. Owens embodied the grotesque from the stylised make up to the farcical hair on her hair and the psychotic ticks of her entire body. She was mesmerising to watch and had created an award winning performance.
UBU is just my kind of show. It takes a hold of you and drags you at breakneck speed, through a rollercoaster of emotions and sights for two hours of brilliant entertainment with everything laid bare on the stage. It had incredible entertainment factor without losing any of its poignancy. It featured top comedy, singing, dancing, a thought provoking message, bold costume and staging choices and, quite frankly, it was a faultless piece of theatre of its kind! Brilliant brilliant brilliant!
This was a theatre production that will make you belly laugh, get under your skin, get into your head and then break your heart in equal measures. I’ve never seen a more relevant piece of theatre in all my years. In the final songs, I held hands with strangers and sang like the future depended on it and although, I was entertained, I was also sad for what we have lost but felt like these strangers around me could help me to discover how wonderful our world really is. ‘Sometimes things change and it’s scary and you want to lock yourself indoors but you can’t. . .we can’t. . .we have to deal with it together because together we can be stronger, ‘ Bobby Dallas (Ubu).
Reviewer: Johanna Hassouna-Smith
Reviewed: 28th January 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★