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Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, at Donmar Warehouse

Lenny Henry plays a brutal criminal in 1930s Chicago, while Bertolt Brecht's play is also updated to reference Donald Trump

12 May, 2017 — By Catherine Usher

Lenny Henry in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. Photo: Helen Maybanks

THE Donmar Warehouse is transformed into the mean streets of 1930s Chicago, and the imposing figure of Lenny Henry’s Arturo Ui is the criminal menace who terrifies those who get in his way.

American viewers might be more critical of Henry’s sometimes flaky accent, but he captures Ui’s power and strength admirably. His height and broad shoulders add to his intimidating demeanour.

The cast is strong without exception and the glamorous yet illicit atmosphere created by the seedy, speakeasy-style setting enables the actors to really connect with the audience.

The songs between scenes are atmospheric yet unexpected. One minute it’s Fatboy Slim’s Praise You and the next it’s Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising.

Tom Edden demonstrates his diversity embracing multiple roles. Whether an announcer, a reporter or a butler, he is flamboyant yet convincing. His turn as a thespian tutoring Ui on how to become more statesmanlike is alarming and amusing, as he teaches Ui a Nazi salute of sorts.

After the initial realisation that Lucy Ellinson is playing a male role, Emanuele Giri, it ceases to be an issue. Indeed, the fact that she’s so heartless and violent is perhaps made all the more sinister by her rather delicate figure and comparatively soft voice.

Michael Pennington is heartbreaking as the old man who suffers greatly for his corrupt choices. It’s when Henry interacts with Pennington’s Dogsborough that the extent of Ui’s brutality becomes clear.

German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote the play in 1941 as a satirical allegory of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in 1930s Germany. Here, Bruce Norris’s adaptation makes plenty of references to Donald Trump.

Although rather clumsy at times, the parallels were well-received by the audience.

When better to get political than a month before a general election? By the time Henry and his gang take their final bows, our nation’s new leader will be decided too. These are divided times and Norris does well to hammer this message home.

Until June 17
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