‘Ubu! A Singalong Satire’ review

Theatre, Musicals
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
Ubu! A Singalong Satire, Kneehigh, Shoreditch Town Hall, 2019
Photograph: Steve Tanner

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Kneehigh return with an ebullient take on the classic absurdist satire, with extra pop hits

Cornish touring theatre company Kneehigh freewheel back into London with ‘Ubu! A Singalong Satire’. Loosely based on Alfred Jarry’s surreal ‘Ubu Roi’, which dumbfounded French audiences when it debuted in 1896, it’s a helium-fuelled balloon of a show, performed by the ensemble cast at full, wide-eyed tilt. It’s ready to pop.

Co-directors Carl Grose and Mike Shepherd’s production fills the main space of Shoreditch Town Hall, complete with karaoke screens and two pop-up bars. You can either stand in the centre of the hall or watch in promenade from scaffolding either side. If you’re able to stand, the experience is better if you’re in the centre.

From these vantage points, we watch as Mr Ubu (Katy Owen) and Mrs Ubu (Shepherd) climb out of a giant toilet, assassinate President Nick Dallas and take over Lovelyville. This is interspersed with singalongs to a grab-bag of pop and cultural anthems, from Britney Spears’s ‘Toxic’ to Edwin Starr’s ‘War’, performed by on-stage band, Nandi Bhebe and the Sweaty Bureaucrats.

This isn’t a show about plot. Things happen because they do. Ubu is your classic Lord of Misrule, an excrement-flinging figure of a society in crisis. In Owen’s hands, he’s a spiteful, cowardly figure, but also funny – there’s something dangerously exhilarating about him. That’s the sly genius here. While we drink, sing and compete in ludicrous on-stage games, he’s imprisoning people.

You don’t have to dig deep to find the parallels with our world of sideshow politicians and populist politics. As Jeremy Wardle, our dryly irreverent host for the evening, Niall Ashdown talks enthusiastically about Lovelyville’s recent ‘in, out, shake it all about’ Hokey-Cokey Referendum. But the pace never slackens. That’s the point. We keep on grinning almost until the end, when the show swerves and slows to a hypnotically looping lyric: ‘you’re going to reap just what you sow’.

By: Tom Wicker

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