First published in The Times, Thursday August 18 2016
This unique take on Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi is one of those oddities that any committed fringe theatre goer worth their salts would feel compelled to investigate. The show, from Quebec’s Le Théâtre de la Pire Espèce, sticks fairly faithfully in outline and spirit to the original, with the twist that the action is all played out on a table top, with the roles played by utensils, containers, tools and household objects. One suspects that – like Jarry’s oeuvre – this is one that will divide audiences.
The most that can be said of the production – which, astonishingly, has toured the world and given some 800 performances before even arriving in Edinburgh – is that there is a certain limited interest in anticipating which particular kitchen item will be unveiled to represent any given character. For the record, an oil-and-vinegar bottle plays Père Ubu, the usurper king of Poland who embarks on genocide to rid the country of his rivals; a dish mop performs the hapless Mère Ubu; two teapots take the roles of the murdered king and his son. The most ingenious creation is a battalion of soldiers, represented by a handful of baguettes with forks poking out of them.
Pic: Mathieu Doyon
Etienne Blanchette and Mathieu Gosselin, who manipulate these cutlery-drawer actors, certainly work up a sweat with their performance, and, as this is Jarry, there is a lot of shouting and a huge emphasis on scatological humour and endless flatulence. The whole thing would be so much more impressive, though, if the performers could imbue these bits and bobs with real anthropomorphic characteristics. As it is, they simply waggle them at each other and spout text. Children playing with empty bottles and plastic spoons invest their role-playing with more emotional depth.
Pic: Mathieu Doyon
There are skilled puppeteers who can make inanimate objects come to life with barely a twist of the wrist. Here, the novelty of the premise wears off quickly, and the laughter in the room is mainly of the polite variety.