Review: Ubu Karaoke at the Lost Gardens of Heligan
- Credit: Archant
Politics, morality, romance and a nonsensical riot of music and mayhem made up the Kneehigh Theatre Production of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Karaoke in the stunning settings of the Lost Gardens of Heligan, writes Ewen MacDonald
In a Parisian theatre in 1896 Alfred Jarry’s play ‘Ubu Roi’ caused a near riot with its protagonist Pére Ubu’s first, nonsensical expletive utterance, ‘Merdre’.
Jarry, an arch provocateur, writer, artist, absinthe imbiber, forerunner of the Dadaists, the surrealists, the theatre of cruelty and absurdism, not to mention father of the profoundly pseudo-science pataphysics, unleashed his unique comic creation on an uncomprehending world.
Pére Ubu, or Pa Ubu, is a monstrous, cowardly, avaricious, ambitious, slovenly and puerile comic creation perfectly adapted to our own times. If ever there was a theatrical protagonist custom designed for the here and now it is Pa Ubu.
Kneehigh Theatre’s modern adaptation Ubu Karaoke was pitched somewhere between Berlin Weimar cabaret, pantomime and a bloodless Grand Guignol.
It was beyond anarchy, with the kind of chaos reminiscent of a 1970s children’s television show.
In the middle of the play was a full blown audience battle with airborne projectiles. The audience participation itself was pitched somewhere between a particularly raucous office Christmas party and It’s a Knockout.
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But, it was the karaoke part that really sold the mob, from the Sex Pistols to Queen to Pa Ubu singing a wonderful rendition of Sid Vicious’ My Way and all finished off with old Satchmo’s Wonderful World.
Perhaps though, the most poignant part of the play was Ma and Pa Ubu murdering the president in an almost slow motion fashion to the sickly sweet sound of The Carpenters, it was funny, moving and disturbingly macabre all in the same instant.
Kneehigh theatre are performers, actors, comedians, musicians, raconteurs and gymnasts with a political and moral edge. They delighted me with the concept of the medieval minstrel band travelling the country and performing for the people.
The play did not shy from the outside world with Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Theresa May all being flushed down the toilet, by Pa Ubu, to the delights of a baying crowd. This was the great disturbing thing in the play, I liked the crass populist Pa Ubu, he (actually played humorously by actress Katy Owen) was the most challenging, prescient and charismatic of the characters, but then perhaps that’s the point. In any case, any play with a bear introduced into it is alright by me.
Ubu Karaoke was epic meta theatre and a great night of riotous fun and in our present world of increasing hubris and insanity, when western democracy seems complicit in its own wilful destruction, perhaps Pa Ubu is exactly the anti-hero we deserve to put things in perspective for us.
Ubu Karaoke continues at The Asylum, Lost gardens of Heligan until 24 August