After a successful opening season Chichester, Jonathan Church’s production of The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui has begun its run on the West End. Brecht plays don’t tend to be big money makers these days; they’re often reserved for drama student productions rather than big London runs, but this gangster re-telling of the rise of Hitler during the Weimar Republic has been given fresh power here, thanks in large part to a brilliant performance from Henry Goodman as Ui.
Brecht’s allegory for Hitler’s climb to power is set in Depression-era Chicago, and tells the story of small-time gangsters, led by Arturo Ui, attempting to control the local cauliflower business. Humour is often at hand in this production, particularly in moments like Ui’s attempt at elocution lessons with an actor (a very funny Keith Baxter), and in the blatantly pre-planned set-up of the warehouse fire and subsequent trial, all of which is handled with impeccable comic timing by Church and his cast. Despite all the comedy, the material is serious, and the production maintains an awareness of the point it means to convey without getting pulled into slapstick silliness or tedious lecturing. Although the parallels are brought out with comedy, the climax of The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui offers a chilling warning to the audience.
All of this is held up by a dazzling central performance from Henry Goodman, who channels Charlie Chaplin in earlier scenes to highlight the ridiculous side of Hitler’s personality, while becoming increasingly sinister as the play progresses. Although the supporting performances are all solid, Goodman commands the audience’s attention at all time.
Certain alterations to Brecht’s script have been made by Alistair Beaton and the more alienating features have been erased to make for a more watchable production than Brecht may have intended, and one that is far more suited to the London stage. Jonathan Church has brought fresh relevance to Arturo Ui, with all the power and intention of Brecht’s original script intact.