Misanthrope Theatre’s adaptation of Ubu the King contains a series of visually effective moments – but the plot is challenging to keep up with, and the performers appear so fixated with pronunciation that the power of the drama, and humour of the comedy, is lost.
As with Macbeth, Ubu the King follows a power-hungry wife who convinces her husband to kill the monarch – a decision that soon causes many more deaths than she planned. However, the succession of murderous characters continues beyond Ubu and it’s hard to keep up with who is who. Much resemblance of a plot is soon lost, and we’re left with a very loud performance that we cannot follow well enough and with little more than visuals which, although sometimes effective, cannot carry the show by themselves.
It has to be said that King Ubu – as written by Alfred Jarry in 1896 – is a parody of old (primarily Elizabethan) theatre, and the plot itself doesn’t take its characters or itself seriously. But the problem with this Ukrainian adaptation by Misanthrope Theatre is largely the utilisation of the English language during the performance. While accents are more than welcome across theatre stages, it seems important that performers feel comfortable and confident in the language they’re using. On more than one occasion, it seemed like the Ubu the King actors were concentrating so much on the text spoken and related pronunciation that the flow (and the ‘drama’) were unfortunately sidelined. This is a shame because their English is fully understandable – even with the odd mistake or two – and the only really problematic aspect regarding the language, which largely takes away from the viewing pleasure, is their lack of confidence in it.
Nevertheless, Misanthrope’s piece contains some very effective visual moments – including the very beginning, when the Papa Ubu and Mama Ubu discuss taking over the power. The bathroom setting (as indicated by the bathtub), one of the most mundane places, makes for a great contrast with the dangerous conversation of murderous intentions. Moreover, a bit later in the show, the scene including executions of the nobility is done with a good dose of humour and can easily be considered the piece’s highlight.
Unfortunately, Ubu the King‘s highlights do not make up for the issues around its decipherability – but do demonstrate the possibilities that remain open for the group.