REVIEW: Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire, Quarry Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, tonight at 7.30pm. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk
ALEX, the woodsman-bearded drama teacher from York, won’t forget his afternoon visit to Leeds Playhouse, thrashed by a Leeds boy in a daft party game in Kneehigh’s promenade musical.
He loved it! We loved it! You’ll love it! Yet again, Cornwall’s Kneehigh send you home dizzy and delirious with the joys and jolts, the thrilling rock’n’rollercoaster ride, of theatre that aptly comes with an exclamation mark in its show title.
Ubu! A Sing Along Satire has politics, a big flushing loo, cheers and boos, inflatable animals, songs, more politics, more songs, competitive audience participation and a giant bear with poor vision in a chaotic, kinetic, karaoke cabaret circus of derailed life under a deranged dictator.
First, house lights up, Delycia Belgrave and the soul house band The Sweaty Bureaucrats set the boisterous mood from up on high with party anthems.
Enter our convivial, dry-witted host in vest, tie and striped trousers, Jeremy Wardle (Niall Ashdown), commenting on the state of the British nation as he introduces the land of Lovelyville and the campaign trail of sleek, sloganeering President Nick Dallas (Dom Coyote), his woke daughter Bobbi (Kyla Goodey) and their Russian security boss Captain Shittabrique (Adam Sopp). Shitt-a-brique. Geddit. There are plenty more risqué gags like that to follow.
Where’s Ubu? Here’s Ubu! Tiny yet hugely impactful Katy Owen’s unhinged, petulant, crude and cruel soon-to-be-dictator Ubu. Potty mouthed, bespectacled, dreadlocked, Welsh voiced, and in the words of Kneehigh: “impossibly greedy, unstoppably rude, inexorably daft and hell-bent on making the country great again! Sound familiar?”
Familiar, yes, but told so gleefully afresh, as Alfred Jarry’s famously riot-inducing shot of anarchy from 1896 Paris kicks up a song and dance in the manipulative era of Trump, Johnson and Putin.
Conceived by writer Carl Grose, his co-director Mike Shepherd (the show’s ribald, preening Mrs Ubu) and musical director Charles Hazlewood, Ubu! is a punk-spirited, twisted vaudeville study of power, protest and populism that could not be better timed.
Boos for Katie Hopkins, Boris and Trump; Britney’s Toxic, The Carpenters’ Close To You and Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk re-invented so joyfully; wonderful performances all round, audience included; crazily energetic choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves and a constantly busy, circular rostrum set by Michael Vale all make for another Kneehigh knees-up high.
Cause a riot, if needs must, to secure a ticket for this petty, power-mad protagonist’s panto of pandemonium.