Photograph by Stephen VaughanThe Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui

By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Stephen Starkey
Directed by Walter Meierjohann
Liverpool Playhouse
30th September - 22nd October 2011

Reviewed by Colin Serjent
Photograph by Stephen Vaughan

Although written in 1941, in an allegory on the inexorable rise to power of Adolf Hitler, Bertolt Brecht's masterpiece has strong contemporary overtones as the world teeters on meltdown. A dark tale for dark times.

Arturo Ui, who begins as a two-bit mobster in Chicago, rises to become a godfather, dirrectly paralleling Hitler's transformation from a low life political agitator to become a despot.

Each episode of the play is a parody of a specific key part of Hitler's ascendancy, for example the 1933 Reichstag Fire and the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. Each of these defining incidents is conveyed on a neon- lit message board suspended above the stage.

Although the play is very comic at times, the underlying message is resonant with deep meaning. How could the world sleepwalk and allow Hitler to frogmarch his way to almost global dominance. Who could argue against a similar situtaion developing in the near future - with some countries on the point of disintegration and chaos, the vacuum could be filled by another megalomaniac fascist.

Ui (Ian Bartholomew) unmercifully tramples over politicians and gangsters in his pursuit to control the cauliflower market (perhaps Brecht comparing humans with vegetables) in America during the depression during the 1930s.

As the play progresses Ui becomes more Hitler-like in apearance, ultimately addressing his adoring disciples in Nuremburg, with his arms folded in front of him, strutting his stuff.

Bartholomew is ably assisted by an ensemble of eight male actors who play put upon businessmen, psychopathic gangsters, greasy politicians and innocent bystanders who fall foul of Ui's bloodthirsty trail of destruction.

Leanne Best - the lone actress in the cast - and a regular performer at the Playhouse and Everyman, - notably in Unprotected - gives a sterling performance, effortlessly switching into different character modes throughout.

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