Onstage, a little guy with limited ability bullies his way to the top. Surrounded by a coterie of yes-men,stylists and spin-doctors, he manufactures attitude, until he no longer has to scape-goat or hold people at gunpoint to get the popular vote. People believe him anyway, and willingly put him in power for what looks like an untouchable reign.
Joe Douglas' production of Bertolt Brecht's tragi-comic mash-up of Damon Runyon archetypes, Shakespearian villains and Nazi Germany starts off with a Tom Waits style medley of some of Brecht's greatest hits. Everybody's hanging out with the audience, looking sharp in 1930s mobster suits. Only when piano playing actor Brian James O'Sullivan sticks on a stupid false moustache and morphs into wannabe kingpin Arturo Ui do things take a lurch into a nightmare world where gangsterism and capitalism look pretty much the same thing.
Brecht wrote this play in 1941, while waiting for a visa to enter the United States, which was then still neutral regarding World War Two. It was seventeen years before the play was staged anywhere, and twenty before it received a production in English. If it was too hot to handle then, Alistair Beaton's revision of George Tabori's translation remains a breezily prescient satire.
With the audience nestled onstage either side of the action, Douglas' cast of nine ham up their cartoon-like depictions of Ui's gang. Stage managers and dressers rush on to shift furniture or oversee quick changes in full view of the audience. Exposed to the dictator's new clothes in this way, we're in the thick of what looks like a chilling prophecy of things to come .
The Herald, June 12th 2017