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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Trial of Ubu


We are enthusiastic, if not horrified. — Alfred Jarry
The Trial of Ubu
(Photo: stepehn Cummiskey)
Simon Stephensí response to the Ubu plays, written as an adolescent by Frenchman Alfred Jarry, is The Trial of Ubu which began as a Dutch/German commission. Stephens has written an abridged version of the French play which is performed as a Punch and Judy puppet play directed by the five puppeteers.

After 20 minutes of the puppets, I was wondering whether we would ever see any actors or whether the whole 75 minutes would be papier machť puppets but thankfully we switch to the interpretersí studio room of the trial. Alfred Jarry had used actors pretending to be marionettes moving in a stylised way for one of his later Ubu plays, when in 1901 he presented Ubu sur la Butte.

Katie Mitchell directs the main trial play and it is only when we see the human participants that we can appreciate her atmospheric direction. Kate DuchÍne and Nikki Amuka-Bird are sitting next to microphones simultaneously interpreting the trial process. Kate DuchÍneís interpreter is older and calmer. Nikki Amuka-Birdís interpreter twitches with anticipation, like the bird in her name, nervously awaiting her input, caught up in the evidence.

We watch the day to day working life; the women arrive, they hang up their coats, they sit poised at their microphones. Katie Mitchell is brilliant at these technical interpretations of plays and the wizardry is impressive. The red light comes on the microphones alternately and there are magical sequences of fast forward which are played excellently by the two actors.

What Simon Stephens and Katie Mitchell illustrate is the contrast between the required style of the legal context, the delivery of long periods of courtroom evidence and the terrible crimes of the accused. Kate DuchÍne shows the emotion on her face whilst keeping her voice neutral as the descriptions of cannibalism make her feel sick. The performances from the two actors playing the women interpreters are outstanding.

Lizzie Clachanís set widens to show Ubu (Paul McCleary) in a clown-like smudged mask with his jailor (Rob Ostlere) or his counsel (Josie Daxter) at the side of the stage. There is much that I didnít fully understand in The Trial of Ubu but also moments which are unforgettable. The most powerful speech lists all the terrible atrocities of the twentieth century, including Hitler and Gaddafi, as we are reminded that there are Ubus alive today with only some going on trial. That trial is a measure of our civilisation as we accord to these monstrous dictators a fair process.

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The Trial of Ubu
Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Katie Mitchell

Starring: Kate DuchÍne, Nikki Amuka-Bird
With: Josie Daxter, Paul McCleary, Rob Ostlere, George Taylor
Designed by Lizzie Clachan
Lighting: Lucy Carter
Composer: Paul Clark
Sound: Tom Hackley
Movement: Joseph Alford
The Puppet Play
King Ubu drawn from Ken McLeishís full length version of Alfred Jarryís play Ubu Roi
Created and directed by Joseph Alford, Josie Daxter, Paul McCleary, Rob Ostlere and George Taylor
Running time: One hour 15 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 25th February 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th January 2012 performance at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 3EU (Tube: Swiss Cottage)

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©Copyright 2012, Elyse Sommer.
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