Socialist Worker

Arturo Ui: a fast-witted tale of bosses’ role in rise of fascism

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2091

Lucian Msamati as Arturo Ui

Lucian Msamati as Arturo Ui

The bosses of Chicago’s vegetable trade hit a serious credit crunch. They urgently need a ruthless thug to snuff out the opposition and drive up profits. That’s where Arturo Ui comes in.

Bertolt Brecht wrote The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in just three weeks in 1941. It tells the story of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, recast as a tale of gangland Chicago.

Ui sets up a protection racket and exploits the corruption of the politicians. Capitalism and criminality are inseparable in the quest for power and profit.

Zimbabwean actor Lucian Msamati and the Lyric’s artistic director David Farr moves Brecht’s brilliant parable to an African setting.

Set, costumes and characters are African – but the text stays the same. The play still shows how respectable society oozes into corruption and thuggery. Msamati’s fine performance ably conveys the violent energy of Arturo.

The best scene is where Ui is given lessons in deportment and rhetoric by a ham actor. It shows a gangster adopting the gloss of bourgeois style.

The fast-moving production has its moments, but it’s not nearly radical enough.

The analogy of the Third World despot and fascism doesn’t really fit. If the premise could be made to work – and this is by no means certain – it would need a serious change to the play.

There is nothing wrong with refettling Brecht and it is a shame they didn’t go further.

Nonetheless Brecht is always worth seeing and the performances and staging alone make this worth a trip.

The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui
Until 15 March
Lyric Hammersmith

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Article information

Tue 4 Mar 2008, 19:06 GMT
Issue No. 2091
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