The timing couldn’t be more perfect for this Chichester Festival production directed by Jonathan Church to wow London. Brecht isn’t an easy ride as it morphs through verse and prose. It’s a long piece too, but with Henry Goodman as Arturo Ui you are guaranteed a phenomenal performance which will captivate and amaze.
The addition of live music and speakeasy interludes gives it accessibility and the skills of superb actors who are also a dab hand on various musical instruments is a coup. I for one am pretty amazed (and thrilled) this has come to the West End.
Set in 1930s Chicago, this allegory of Hitler’s rise to power, thinly veiled as a gangster and his goons controlling the vegetable trade in the city, has direct references to the key Nazis cultivating their masterplan as Göring, Röhm and Goebbels are disguised as various mobsters in the clan, with the reluctant Paul von Hindenburg as city mayor.
Alistair Beaton’s revised text sparkles and the utter madness of heated fury over the cauliflower trade gives poignancy to how utterly incredible this whole period of history was. ‘Nobody yields to force unless he’s forced to’ pretty much sums up the antics of the day; the emphasis though is on Hitler as awkward, out-of-place nobody, a paranoid coward.
The highlight of the evening is the scene when a washed-up, out-of-work actor (Keith Baxter) arrives to teach Ui how to talk and walk, quoting Mark Antony’s speech from Julius Caesar and coaching his grand oratorical skills. Ui is groomed as a politician might be groomed today and the comic genius of Goodman mutating into a furious goose-stepping Hitler is utterly hilarious.
The end had the audience gasping out loud, shocking as it was, but in this climate the message is so relevant. The final lines serve as a dreadful warning: ‘The bitch that bore him is on heat again.’
I almost wanted to picket outside the Duchess Theatre and shout to the departing audience, ‘And this is why you shouldn’t vote UKIP!’