Author: Bertolt Brecht
Translator: George Tabori
Director: Jonathan Church
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree
This massive play is all at once entertaining, thought provoking, ridiculous, fast moving, dramatic, amusing and scary, very, very scary. Set in the Chicago gangland of the 1930s depression, gangsters behave as gangsters always do in the movies, sit around in jazz clubs, drinking illicit booze and gossiping about how many opponents they have gunned down. The only odd thing about this group is that they are obsessed with the marketing of cauliflowers and are determined to maintain their hold on the cauliflower market by fair means, or, preferably, foul.
As in the opening of “Cabaret” the play opens with an MC introducing his players, to the accompaniment of a small jazz group. A venerable grandfather figure, Dogsborough, played by William Gaunt, sits quietly observing the scene but making no comment, not even to remonstrate as the talk of massacres becomes even more exaggerated.
Bursting on to the stage comes what at first seems a somewhat insignificant character, Arturo Ui, (Henry Goodman). He is slightly hunched and wild eyed with a look of Mr Punch, and, it turns out, a similar attitude to the rest of humanity. He is not one of the cashmere coat, trilby hat and two tone shoes brigade but “just a boy from Brooklyn” with a horrible accent and a pronounced inferiority complex, however, he manages to cultivate and influence the gang of greengrocers and by promising protection becomes their leader. Arturo, just as his real life parallel Adolf did, he gains control by what appears to be a democratic election. The action becomes more and more violent and by making the drivers and packers, like the Jews, the common enemy he becomes the gang’s saviour. From then on the similarities with Nazi Germany become even plainer.
The script is punctuated by Shakespearian and Biblical references which charm the audience and the whole is held together by a large and extremely strong cast. As is typical in the round setting of the Minerva, the sets, designed by Simon Higlett and lit by Tim Mitchell impose minimal disturbance to the flow of the action. Most telling is the raising of the house lights during Arturo’s final rant, delivered from the top of a huge scaffold draped with the unmistakable red flag which finally falls to remind us all of the horrors of that period. That includes us all in his audience and the epilogue, delivered in plain English, reminds us that unlike Dogsborough, if we do not like what is going on it is up to us to say something, even if it is to our own detriment, or else, watch out!
Runs until 28th July 2012