Rehearsal photos: John Boyega in Woyzeck, Old Vic
Review: While We're Here, Bush Theatre Studio

Review: Lenny Henry in the irresistible Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar Warehouse

Lennyhenryw500h500Before I had even taken my seat at the Donmar, I'd spoken to two actors and shaken Lenny Henry's hand. It's all part of the Donmar's transformation for the Bruce Norris adaptation of Brecht's play - The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. The stalls - stage and seating - have been removed and replaced to create a space decked out as a late night jazz cafe complete with wooden tables and chairs to fit the new setting of prohibition era Chicago.

The cast mingle with the audience as they arrive in the building and then in the theatre chatting as if you are cafe customers. The reason behind some of the conversations only becomes apparent as the play properly starts - PolyG and I were asked by Lenny Henry's Arturo Ui if we'd stand up when he requested during the play, naturally we agreed. If you are sat at the front - even in the circle - you may be roped in.

In Norris' adaptation our Brechtian villain is a gangster who wants respect as well as power and will be as ruthless as he needs to be to get there. However this is a far less intimidating Arturo than I have seen in other adaptations. The fact that his protection racket targets grocers and in particular the cauliflower importers and sellers gives you a taste of the tone.

It is an Arturo Ui which is frothy and fun, with unsubtle references to Donald Trump and blatant parallels with the likes of Richard III - Norris also manages to weave in excerpts from several other Shakespeare plays including 'To be or not to be'. There are also tantalising snatches of popular songs sung live in a lounge jazz style, it becomes a game of name that tune - try and guess the song from a verse or two of familiar lyrics sung in an unfamiliar way. Nat King Cole's Nature Boy gets its second stage outing in as many years too (it was the song playing at the start of Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet).

The second half doesn't feel as quite as riotous as the first and in embellishing the play this way the more serious plot development scenes can feel a little stodgy and subdued in comparison. It certainly isn't a production of nuances so one wonders if it they could be trimmed to leave more room for the fun stuff. 

Lenny Henry's Arturo is less menacing, more of a lovable rogue who happens to have people killed and that pretty much sums this up. It is a production weighted a more towards silliness than biting satire but that isn't a criticism because it was laugh out loud funny and had me grinning so I'm giving it four and a half stars.

It's two hours and 55 minutes long including an interval and is at the Donmar Warehouse until 17 June.

Rehearsal pics.

 

 

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