Ubu Roi

Aug 11 2017 | By More

★★☆☆☆   Patter, physical

Summerhall (Venue 26): Wed 2 – Sun 27 Aug 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is no shortage of energy in Ludens Ensemble’s take on Ubu Roi, playing at Summerhall. However, that energy is dissipated in an over-indulgent production.

The impact of Alfred Jarry’s 1896 taboo-breaking succes de scandale, with its human Punch-and-Judy routines and scatology both real and invented, is impossible to recreate. Not least because Pa Ubu pales into insignificance compared to later, less fictional, people bent on conquering Poland and slaughtering countless numbers. Which does tend to undermine the joke.

Ubu Roi. Pic Ludens Ensemble

Kenneth McLeish’s translation, originally commissioned for the BBC World Service, does score highly in preserving the wilfully juvenile nature of the original, which is reflected to a large extent in this performance. There is no denying Dylan Read’s energy and physical dexterity as a capering Pa Ubu, like a thoroughly nasty children’s TV presenter.

However, there is a lack of focus throughout. Physical theatre, puppetry and peculiar props are thrown at the production – sometimes literally – by director Philippos Philippou, along with video and sound manipulation.

Some of it – such as the opening projection of the title on a shower of spittle – is inspired. However, it is all a little haphazard, even apologetic at times. If it was more extreme and anarchic it would have more impact, but it has the cosiness of a student revue.


Even more seriously, the performers – Read, Adam Tompa, Jenny Lynn and Persefoni Gerangelou – have a disconcerting tendency either to mumble or shout. This is clearly intentional, but does nothing for the audience. Summerhall’s Demonstration Room is not the ideal venue for this kind of production, but it could all be much clearer.

How much this inhibits the production is clear when silence descends for a bout of tremendous shadowplay that towers over everything else on show. There is also an exactness to the movements here that is not always present elsewhere.

“It’s like the panto,” Ubu declares at one point. Oh no it isn’t … a pantomime would need asides and local jokes sharper and funnier than those here. There is plenty of glee on show, and some of it is a glorious mess – but a mess nevertheless. Even anarchists need to know what they are doing.

Running time 1 hour 15 minutes (no interval)
Summerhall (Venue 26), 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL
Wednesday 2 – Sunday 27 August 2017
Daily (not Mon 14 or Mon 21) at 9.25 pm
Book tickets on the Fringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/ubu-roi
Company website: http://www.ludensensemble.co.uk
Facebook: @ludensensemble
Twitter: @LudensEnsemble


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