THEATRE REVIEW: Kneehigh's Ubu ★★★
Shoreditch Town Hall, London
Wednesday 4th - Saturday 21st December 2019
Back when I was at University and in one of the many Theatre Histories lectures I undertook, Ubu was the one historic event that my lecturer would go mad for and basically could talk about for the whole of England; opening in Paris on 10th December 1896, it also so happened to close the same day due to a breakout in the audience due to the upturn of norms and conventions. Alfred Jarry became in this moment one of the most talked about writers of his generation, and if he was around to see Kneehigh’s hysterical and raucous sing-a-long production, first premiered at The Asylum in 2018, I think we could only imagine the absurdness that would come from his mouth, with overwhelming emotion.
There is for this matter no better company to take on Jarry’s impossible creation than Kneehigh; known for their madness and creativity, it’s also a no-brainer to cast Mike Shepherd and Katy Owen in this interpretation that is about to embark on a UK Tour to the most art-driven cities in the UK. Taking the lead and embracing gender swaps, Owen and Shepherd take on Mr and Mrs Ubu, looking to take over the town and assassinate President Nick Dallas (Dom Coyote), with considerable success but not without the PC Police Host Jeremy Wardle (Niall Ashdown) standing in the way to become the voice of the audience, who ultimately play the biggest ensemble in the show, being invited to sing along with our peers to tracks from Duran Duran, Britney Spears, and many others, whilst also getting the chance to decide who we would like to, if we had the chance, to flush down the lavatory.
Making up the the full company are Robi Luckay as Captain Shittabrique (Yeah, it’s really how you think it’s pronounced), and Kyla Goodey as Bobbi, Ubu’s daughter. Both performers put in a tremendous display of characterisation that only heighten the action on stage; with audience interaction being involved in the form of a gameshow, Luckay’s skill in improvisation is slick and guaranteed will make you chuckle, whilst Goodey’s change in emotion and development when the ghost of former president Dallas haunts her is undoubtedly crazy and will make you question just how you managed to come into the production sober, but is all a part of the Kneehigh package that never fails to deliver a performance, even if at times it might have you scratching your head and checking your watch, as the running time extends way past it’s pre-warning, as the second act comes to a close and a 5 minute ‘breather’ is undertaken. Briefly touching on Mike Gunning’s Lighting and Jay Jone’s Sound Design, again these elements add nothing but atmosphere and a need for a soundtrack to be released, accompanied with the in house band, Nandi Bhebhe and The Sweaty Bureaucrats.
Overall, though admittedly it’s extremely diverse in anything I’ve personally seen Kneehigh produce in the past, with tension and uncertainty forming an overriding feeling before entering the auditorium, you cannot deny the expertise and commitment that every Kneehigh member puts into their performances; though all audiences may not agree on their feelings towards a particular production, you cannot deny that you will get a fleshed out, big production valued, and astonishing trip to the theatre with Kneehigh at its helm.