Written By: Alfred Jarry
Directed by: Edie Reaney Chunn
Produced by: Daniel Halpern and Katrina Jones
I’d like to preface this review with: Ubu Roi is a difficult text.
Although it is silly and unusual (which may lead you to think it would be easy to produce and direct), the absurdity is exactly what makes the text so difficult to present. That said, I was very interested to see how the King’s Theatrical Society would interpret this particular script.
If you saw Colours in the Dark last season, then you would know that director Edie Reaney Chunn is familiar with the interpretation of the unusual and abstract. Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi then seems like a natural next step for her, and she pulled it off.
Most likely, the first thing you’ll notice when you enter the Pit is the gleaming porcelain toilet centre-stage. Behind it, the dark looming castle, and above, a sad full moon. The audience is welcomed to the show by none other than Alfred Jarry.
Before continuing, it may be interesting to note a few things about the playwright, which may help you get a sense for the nature of the play. Alfred Jarry, born in France in 1873, referred to himself as “we,” was a bicycle enthusiast, named his first apartment “the Cavalry of the Slaughtered,” in which he allowed multiple wild owls fly about, and was the inventor of pataphysics. As his life progressed, he increasingly became associated with the character “Ubu,” even signing many letters with the name instead of “Jarry” towards the end of his life. Jarry’s (aka Ubu’s) work has come to be credited with the development of the theatre of the absurd, symbolism, dada and other sub-genres of theatre.
So now that we know a bit about the unusual, arguably mad genius behind the play, let us continue with the KTS interpretation.
As the performance unravels, it feels a bit like watching a group of obscene, vulgar children play dress-up and make-believe. Which is, I think, how Jarry would have liked to see it.
It is clear from their energy and engagement that the performers are having plenty of fun while sharing this story, and for good reason. Elements of slapstick, metatheatre and use of improvisation keep this play lively, playful and adaptable to modern viewers.
The use of simple set and adaptable costumes are suitable choices for this production. Costumers Amy Muir and Brianna Dunn chose effective costumes for the chorus and leads, giving them a unified appearance, as well as the versatility required for the changing roles and events. The various choices of weaponry were a nice touch. Another choice that stood out to me was the use of the iconic spiral on Père Ubu’s belly, which is reminiscent of the costume from the very first production taking place on Dec. 10, 1896.
This play will be unlike most plays you have seen or will see, and for this reason alone, it is completely worth attending. Although it is a busy time of year, take a break and allow this play to flush you away to a land of merdre.