Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht, trans. by George Tabori.  Daramalan Theatre Company at McCowage Hall, Daramalan College, October 12-15, 2016.

Directed and designed by Joe Woodward; Musical director – Damien Foley; Choreography by Miri Slater.

Original music by Damien Foley, Christopher Walsh and Bartholomew Bunk; Costumes, masks and set pieces by Joanna Howard.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 12

Joe Woodward is the head Drama teacher at Daramalan College, a Years 7-12 Roman Catholic co-educational secondary school in Canberra.

Government secondary schools in Canberra are separated into High Schools to the end of Year 10 and Secondary Colleges for Years 11-12, leading to the Year 12 Certificate at Accredited level or matriculation at Tertiary Accredited level.  Non-Government schools, though generally retaining their Year 11-12 students in the same school as their 7-10 students, provide Accredited and Tertiary Accredited programs after Year 10.

In keeping with the approach taken in other Secondary Colleges in Canberra, stage productions are mounted in a theatre company model as an education device to teach an understanding of how professional theatre works, especially (but not only) for those students who aim to become arts practitioners in their adult lives.

To provide a context for this review, this is Woodward’s description of Daramalan’s approach:

The Daramalan Theatre Company was formed in 1998 to give a professional structure to the theatrical performances presented by Daramalan College students and staff. It acknowledges Daramalan’s very fine prior record in the Performing Arts while developing a formal rationale for the development and presentation of theatre.

The Company explores theatrical processes and subject matter of particular relevance for younger people, the Daramalan community and the wider society. Its program varies from group devised productions, classic and contemporary scripts, in-house scripted works and musicals. Each production is given a fresh treatment that will be of benefit to the participants and audiences. The range of productions is illustrated by the devised joint production of “Installation Ark” presented with the Visual Arts Department (2013), Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr (2014), Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew (2014) and CLONE (2015).

The chosen themes are often spiritual in nature while acknowledging the contemporary reality of contemporary experience: ennui, rampant materialism, the abandonment of spiritual values, the reduction of life and existence to commodities, the havoc caused by drugs and addictions, the growing violence between competing belief systems. Focusing on these issues gives greater leverage and support to curricula and pastoral care programs offered within the school. It also gives the wider community a focus for artistic relevance for everyday existence.

In presenting Brecht, in a design very much in the tradition of expressionism and using documentary film (much as Erwin Piscator, Brecht’s early mentor, had done from the mid-1920s), Woodward has given his students and their audience a clear picture of the parallels between the rise of Ui’s control of the fictional cauliflower market in Chicago and the next door town of Cicero and the real history of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and Austria in 1933, as well as how to perform in this style.

In the final slides, Hitler’s image is replaced by many others since that time, from Stalin, through Pol Pot, even unto Donald Trump.  Woodward succeeds very well in developing his program note, Whatever one thinks of Brecht’s politics and personality, there is no doubting that Brecht’s theatrical concepts and approaches have advanced theatre’s potential for challenging stereotypes and for linking art with serious trends in society and culture.

To quote one student’s response to their work with the Daramalan staff: “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” is a bold statement.  It’s a statement saying that, I individually, as well as us (as a cast), will not stand for tyranny and dictatorship in our world.  We will not stand for the egomaniac demagogue.  As the Barker says: “Great Murderers, and that’s a well-known fact, still do command from us too much respect”.  So we are taking away that respect.  We’re unveiling these monsters for who they truly are.  All of my characters [The Barker, The Old Actor, The Pastor, Gun Man, Court Physician, Ensemble Member] are quite comical, and I believe that comedy is the best platform to make fun of a demagogue as it demolishes the fear and respect we have for them as people.  So, here’s the show to end all gangsters shows.  Enjoy it folks, before the siren blows... (Oliver Durbidge)

I couldn’t say it better.

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