At the premiere of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi in 1896, pandemonium broke out in the Paris auditorium after just the first word - the thinly veiled "merdre", here translated loosely into modern Scots by David Greig as "shat". Director Dominic Hill and his cast, however, are well aware that it takes more to ruffle an audience in the 21st century and their hard-won shocks are testimony to a fine production.
This Tron Theatre/ Dundee Rep co-production provides the finale to the Barbican/Young Vic Young Genius season - Jarry was just 15 when he composed the first version of his proto-absurdist satire. And in relocating the piece to an old folks' home, Greig and Hill have broadened its scatological preoccupations (although for a piece that sets out to shock the bourgeois theatre-goer, the audience here is warned of explicit content and low-flying foodstuffs).
Gerry Mulgrew's Dad Ubu makes bold leaps from wild and growling peaks of despotism to depths of cowering wretchedness; his compelling, magnetic nastiness a comment on the attractiveness of evil. And Mulgrew is abetted by Ann Louise Ross' hilarious Mum Ubu, a Mrs Punch from hell.Hill's ultra-confident production magpies from all quarters, juxtaposing the longest comedy bowel movement since Austin Powers was unfrozen, with allusions to Marat/ Sade and Looney Tunes violence. Its manic energy ensures that its many references, its archness and its intelligence never detract from the production's clarity. The spirit of the original remains intact, too.
Paddy Cunneen has provided some fine, Pythonesque musical interludes. There are surprises for close observers of the Scottish stage, too, with the shockingly delightful spectacle of such a dignified actress as Kay Gallie going at it like a gate in a high wind during the orgy scene.
It's an evening that, despite perhaps our lack of shockability and the advanced apologia for the madness and muck, scraps every inch of the way to pack a shocking punch. And it lands many more than it misses.
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