If you have never seen how radical directing can murder every word of an author then you must have missed the new version of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi by Simon Stephens at West Hampstead Theatre .Every scene of  “The Trial of Ubu” screams Katie Mitchell’s name as Mitchell has stamped them wildly and violently.

Audiences get their first surprise when they watch a puppet show in a metre square window of newly made shiny big wooden stage that outlines the story with a dark humour. It is the story of a dictator King Ubu who oppresses, tortures, kills hundreds and thousands of people to satisfy his greed for money and power like all the dictators in the world’s history. Simon Stephen’s creativity with words during the puppet show gets overshadowed when little puppets have wild sex, betray and greed for more money and power. Audiences don’t even hear Stephen’s  new word “Nobster” as  they laugh during those lines. However  that tells more about them not Stephens.

Interpreters Kate Duchene, Nikki Amuka-Bird in rehersal of The Trial of Ubu.

Following Katie Mitchell’s witty idea of puppet show ,that was done to shorten  436 days trial in the courtroom; only the middle part of the stage opens and two interpreters appear to be waiting anxiously on their highly equipped desk. It is January 2010, The International Criminal Tribunal , sitting in the Hague, day 436.We hear King Ubu’s all kinds of “ CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY” and absurdity of International Justice System that struggles for 436 days to arrest such a grotesque amoral megalomaniac dictator. We only hear what has been said in the court as two interpreters, Kate Duchene and Nikki Amuka-Bird, interpret tirelessly and breathlessly.

In the end of the 436th day of the trial King Ubu asks Judge: “Is the building this big to keep me inside or is it this big to show everybody how hard you are trying to keep me inside? Is the architecture for me or is it for all the people gathering outside the front gates? Or watching on the television?”

When Judge says architecture is only functional Ubu asks again:

“Do you know what is going on in my head as I stand hear listening to you talking about honour and about law and about justice and about things that I have done? Spion Kop 1900.Guedecort 1916.Constantinapole 1915. St Petersburg 1905.Munich 1923.Gijon 1936.Berlin 1938.Warsaw 1943.Tarawa 1943.Davao 1941.Belsen 1943.Nagasaki 1945.Dresten 1945.Algiers 1957.Saigon 1968.My Lai 1968.Biafra 1969.Phnom Penh 1975.Sharpeville 1960.Tehran 1988.Santiago 1990.Beirut 1983.Kabul 1980.Sarajevo 1992.Nyarubuye 1994.Grozny 2000.Port au Prince 2004.Omagh 1998.Manhattan Island 2001.Baghdad 2003.Gaza 2009.

Prosecuter(George Taylor),Jailor(Rob Ostlere),in rehersal of The Trial of Ubu.

After hearing these golden lines of Stephens that are almost lost in the fastest speech of the interpreters , we get disoriented once more when two other parts of the stage open and King Ubu eventually appears masturbating  in his cell while counsel for the defence and prosecuter smoke outside and think what they do is a moral masturbation.

The play ends without the beautiful transfer of characters’ intense emotions to the auidences as Mitchell has sadly turned them all into robotic creatures in her highly technical play.

Stephens’ satirical play The Trial of Ubu  was first staged  with Ubu Roi at the Schauspielhaus Essen in a co-production with the Toneelgroep Amsterdam on 16 April 2010 and it was transferred Toneelgroep Amsterdam on 1 May 2010. The play will be at West Hampstead until 14 February.

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Comments
  1. Amy says:

    The puppet show was in the original text- Stephens’s choice, not Mitchell’s, Just to let you know! I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here and think you’ve highlighted a very important extract of Stephens’s text. Your review doesn’t seem to have a conclusion though!

  2. poldergeist says:

    I am going to see this next week – I look forward to it. Yes, I am confused as I felt you were starting out on the offensive against Katie Mitchell’s style, but then it seems to run into praise for the play. I wonder if you could summarise what it was you disliked about Katie Mitchell’s approach, if you have time? I am asking because I am using some elements of her approach to multi-media performance to inform an adaptation project I am working on. Feedback is welcome, I am trying to work out what it is about her style that turns some audiences away. I have my own thoughts on this, but curious to see what you think!

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