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Ubu the King review at the MAC, Belfast – ‘a no-holds barred reworking’

Rhodri Lewis in Ubu the King at the Mac, Belfast. Photo: Ciaran Bagnall
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The King is dead. Long live the king. Through the ages, the replacement of one corrupt despot with another represents the opposite of progress, a situation blown into grotesque proportions in Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (Ubu the King).

Jarry’s lampooning of an incompetent teacher grew into the play which started the absurdist movement, designed to shock, repulse and put the boot into the bourgeoisie. Patrick J O’Reilly’s anarchic, highly physical production is set in a patisserie, where an overweight, sexually predatory patissier fixes his attention not only on his female companions’ rear ends but also on Tony Flynn’s camp head chef, whose crown he covets.

Ciaran Bagnall pares the space back to bare essentials, lining it with plastic strips, which reflect and refract the neon lighting, and creating a clinical environment somewhere between an industrial kitchen and an abattoir.  The echoing acoustics, however, have an adverse effect on Jarry’s challenging narrative. Clad, for good reason, in white plastic ponchos and hair coverings, the audience gathers around gleaming work stations as the cast emerges in utilitarian scene-of-crime overalls.

Rhodri Lewis’ Ubu is a disgusting, dangerous man-child, magnificently employing the full welly of his native South Wales accent as the space becomes his battleground and ultimately his kingdom. Around him his victims and co-conspirators stir bowls of crème pat, chocolate cake mix, raspberry jelly, licking, tasting, smearing their contents, slowly turning them into weapons of war and tools of degradation. As the chaos reaches its climax, Brexit shenanigans are impossible to ignore in this theatrically risky assault course.


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Anarchy and political chaos rule in this no-holds barred reworking of Jarry’s absurdist masterpiece