Ubu Roi @ The Barbican

I have always admired Cheek by Jowl’s work, and Ubu Roi is no exception. In fact, I’d say it’s the best performance by this company that I have seen. Admittedly it was pretty weird, but the combination of the comedy of the text, and the energy exerted by the performance made the play very entertaining to watch. Written by Alfred Jarry in 1896, the play is a story about Pere Ubu, who wants to murder the king of Poland in order to take his place. Spurred on by his wife, Ubu is able to get rid of the royal family, killing all those around him, and taking everything for himself. Director Declan Donnellan has re-imagined this play by framing it inside a modern French living room, during a very fancy dinner party.

Photo: Johan Persson

In the beginning, the audience is introduced to a teenage boy (Xavier Boiffier, doubling as Bordure), who is filming his parents. The father of the household (performed brilliantly by Christophe Gregoire, who doubles as Pere Ubu) is preparing dinner, while the mother (Camille Cayol, who also doubles as Mere Ubu) is getting ready. As soon as the couple show a slight interest in each other in front of their son, the lighting and sound indicates a switch in atmosphere, and the two actors begin immersing themselves in jerky, grotesque movement. Then straight away, the atmosphere cuts back to the normality of the household, which is hilarious to watch. Throughout the play, the audience are thrown from one reality to another as we are told the story of Ubu Roi. Props to the actors for being so composed on stage though, I would’ve cracked up so easily.

Photo: Johan Persson

Donellan has successfully brought the chaos of the text on to the stage. The beautifully white, clean, bourgeois set, designed by Nick Ormerod, is trashed wonderfully by the performers by the end of the show. The play’s comment on power and society is channelled by Donellan through the setting, and also with the very imaginative use of props. The lampshade in the living room is transformed into the King of Poland’s crown, while the bathroom matt is used as Pere Ubu’s armour to prepare him for war. I especially loved the use of the blender as a weapon of torture. It is this aspect of the performance that made the text’s humour come through so well.

Photo: Johan Persson

The play is performed in French, with English subtitles. I found that at times I wasn’t really paying attention to the subtitles at all, but focusing on what was happening on stage. The elements of the text that mirror Shakespeare’s work has been interpreted well by Donellan. The way Mere Ubu manipulates Pere Ubu (like in Macbeth) is portrayed through the very sexual relationship the two characters have. The creepy sexual stuff is also encompassed in the play’s mirroring of Hamlet, which Donellan manifests in Bordure, who films the mother while she is in her underwear in the beginning of the play.

Truthfully, there were some points where I was completely baffled. But sometimes you need to embrace the chaos for something awesome to happen, and this is a very good example of that. It was a very good production, and I wish it luck on its European tour.

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Billy Elliot @ Victoria Palace Theatre

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a full blown musical, so I jumped at the chance when I was hooked up with a ticket (thanks to the lovely people at officialtheatre.com). I’m a massive fan of musicals anyway, and also of Billy Elliot the film, so this was obviously a good shout. Turns out, it’s mostly a good shout at some points.

The show, like the film, is set in Durham, under Thatcher’s government. The miners in the small town, fearing unemployment, are on strike, and barely getting by. Mr Elliot (Deka Walmsley), although struggling with finances, still manages to send his son Billy (Bradley Perret) to boxing practice every week. But Billy, who dislikes the boxing, finds himself in the middle of Mrs Wilkinson’s (Ruthie Henshall) Ballet lesson, who sees potential in him. Even though Billy’s dad is upset at his “sissy” new passion, Billy still wants nothing more that to study at the London Ballet School.

Photo: Alastair Muir

Photo: Alastair Muir

Perret was a good Billy. His dancing was brilliant and, well he was pretty adorable. In particular, the scene where he dances with his older self (played gracefully by Barnaby Meredith) was beautiful. They mirrored each other’s moves precisely to the Song of the Swans, and it was absolutely mesmerising, until young Billy was lifted and spun around on a wire. Yeah they killed it. But the children in the show overall were brilliant. I loved their enthusiasm, and you could really tell they wanted to be there. They were enjoying themselves so much, that actually that was the reason why I enjoyed the show, because they were just so happy to be there.

Overall, Peter Darling’s choreography is superb, and is actually the best part of this show. In particular, the scenes including the police officers and the miners dancing in unison were the most effective. The sharp movements worked well in presenting the physical labour of the two groups, and showed the importance of unison and community to police officers and to miners. The audience realises the similarities between the two groups of men through their masculinity and their union, even though they themselves are in fact oblivious to their parallels. These scenes just looked great on stage and were really enjoyable to watch.

Photo: Alastair Muir

Photo: Alastair Muir

To be honest, it felt like none of the adults  actually wanted to be there, but maybe that’s just me! After all, I am not the target market for West End musicals, they’re for those visiting London. For them it was completely enjoyable. The auditorium was filled with laughter at the over the top gags (like all the swearing, yawn), and the performance received a standing ovation, even from the old pensioner party sitting in the row in front of me.

It was a pleasant and enjoyable experience, purely because of the amazing choreography, so I do recommend it to those wanted to see some great dancing, and some insane puppetry (there’s nothing scarier in life than seeing a GIANT Thatcher). And actually, if you’re looking to recruit some young talent, then I recommend being in the front row too. But everything else? Just meh.

Want to see this show? Click here for tickets!