Written in three weeks while in exile from his native Germany and awaiting entry to the US, the Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is author Bertolt Brecht’s lesson from history. A blatant allegory of the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, Brecht uses the setting of gangland Chicago to tell the story of the misanthropic, small-time gangster Ui who has aspirations to political office. The events of the play mirror major episodes in the lead-up to the annexing of Austria by the Nazis and the language, a mixture of prose and verse lends an almost Shakespearean gravitas to the proceedings.
Henry Goodman (Arturo Ui) in The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester Photo: Tristram Kenton
Central to the success of this production is Henry Goodman’s performance as Arturo Ui. A prolific and talented performer, Goodman pulls out every trick in the vaudevillian book to establish Ui as something of a psychopathic clown. The result is deeply unsettling and beneath Goodman’s intermittent gurning and the silly walks that sit perfectly within the satirical nature of the piece, we witness the rise of a monster.
Goodman is supported by a strong company including an equally menacing performance by Michael Feast as the violent henchman Ernesto Roma, whose ultimate demise at the hands of Ui represents one of the bleakest moments of the play. William Gaunt too delivers a typically understated though utterly absorbing Dogsborough, the elder statesman who reluctantly raises Ui to office.
Jonathan Church’s thoughtful, lucid direction has dispensed with Brecht’s legends that so helpfully hammer home the historical parallels of each scene but this is very much a play about preparing for the future rather than illuminating the past.