The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui review: A Trumped-up adaptation of '40s gangland satire

 
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell
Follow Edwin
Lenny Henry in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse (Source: Helen Maybanks)
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
4.0

There’s a thin line between “cautionary tale” and “cashing in”, and Bruce Norris’s Trumped-up adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's 40s gangland satire of Adolf Hitler crosses that line frequently. The rewritten script is packed with excerpts from the Donald Trump playbook, boasting the best words, the biggest crowds, the nastiest women.

It’s good for a few chuckles but more than a little hypocritical – Trump is as much this adaptation’s prized performer as its target – and besides, you can only skewer somebody so many times before you blunt the skewer. The play has more success when it’s channelling Trump’s buffoonery rather than quoting directly. “The substance? It’s substantial,” is one of its better quips.

If the play’s contemporary references are heavy-handed, it’s carried off with plenty of gore and gusto. The set pivots from hooch bar through courtroom to flower shop at the drop of a fedora. The cast – a rogue’s gallery of pinstriped thugs, crooked grocers and ratlike journalists – move freely in and out of the audience, collaring the odd unfortunate to supply the butt of a joke. Actors cover scene transitions with jazzy reworkings of pop song solos while Arturo's henchmen bamboozle the play’s few scrupulous souls.

The performances are memorable, though hardly nuanced. Lenny Henry is by turns preening, petulant and fearsome as Arturo himself, a small-time protection racketeer with despotic aspirations. Of his entourage, Lucy Ellinson is truly odious as the cackling dandy Giri, and Michael Pennington nicely doddering as a once-irreproachable alderman, swept into Arturo’s clutches. Tom Edden, meanwhile, is positively demonic as the caricatured thesp summoned to teach Arturo the art of oratory.

As bruising as it is timely, this isn’t the twist of the knife Trump-phobes may be hoping for. But it’s a powerful, well-rounded production that’ll leave you breathless, if not enlightened.

Related articles