The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
Hard on the heels of his production of Henry VIII at the Bridewell, Phil Willmott's Steam Industry Company have returned there with an equally breathless Arturo Ui.
It is not Willmott's style to let the audience contemplate the allegory in Andy de la Tour's translation of this classic morality tale about the rise of fascism. Before the actors in one scene have left the stage, their successors are in place and speaking. This keeps the pace and excitement going with only a couple of longueurs as the political intrigues intrude.
The translation is interesting and often takes on a poetic, almost Shakespearean feel. This is the result of heightened language and Willmott's apparent instructions to his cast to speak the lines as if they were acting in Shakespeare. Indeed there are some parallels, as the Hitlerian gangster Ui takes on the mantle of a latter-day Richard III.
The acting is uneven with a tendency to drift towards the cartoon-like on occasion. However, Peter Polycarpou gives a virtuoso performance in the title role building his character from impotent petty thug to political leader. This culminates in a chillingly hilarious final speech that unerringly matches Hitler's speech rhythms and body language.
While Polycarpou is undoubtedly the star, Stewart Alexander as his henchman, Roma, and particularly Kevin Moore as an actor who has the job of turning the slouching hoodlum into a winning leader, provide strong support. In addition, the production is considerably enhanced by Hansjorg Schmidt's atmospheric lighting -almost as good as an extra leading character.
The play also has considerable contemporary resonance as it explores the nature of corruption and greed. It is the good fortune of Andy de la Tour and Phil Willmott that their production should appear while the Enron and Worldcom scandals rage on. The way in which honest Mayor Dogsborough (James Horne) is sucked into the ways of the gangsters and destroyed may feel too close to home for some Andersens partners.
Phil Willmott is far too inventive and adventurous to provide perfect theatre but his efforts are always exhilarating. Arturo Ui is no exception.