Ubu Roi is a mess. A filthy, mud-spluttered, cover-me-with-plastic glorious mess.
Founded in late 2010, the 5Pound theatre ensemble are making their mark in Melbourne. Based at The Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond – once a single-front workers cottage – they present plays that they love, which have so far ranged from The Blue Room to Pygmalion. Jason Director, and Co-Artistic Director of 5 Pound, Jason Cavanagh loves Absurdism. He directed Ionesco’s Rhinoceros last year and was thrilled to get into the 1896 script by Alfred Jarry that’s said to be the inspiration of the mid-20th century style and had its French audience rioting at its first performance.
Papa Ubu (let’s call him Kevin) wants to be King. He’s a greedy man whose childish behaviour destroys everything he tries to control in a world where the snot and poo jokes would put a poo-obsessed four-year-old to shame.
So Cavanagh fills the stage with reeking mud and with Mattea Davies’s faded grotesque glory design, Tim Wotherspoon’s dripping sound and Doug Montgomery’s lighting the space is so viserally vile that I was glad I’d worn wellies. Mud is flung as underwear and excess body hair turn to brown and the front row pull their plastic covers up to protect themselves from the ongoing political shit fight that’s played out before them.
Ubu Roi is a text that’s read (or read about) more than it’s performed, but seeing it is much more fun than reading it. Cavanagh grasps the wholeness of the story (it’s very loosely based on the Scottish play), but the ending feels empty. And, while he lets his delightfully hilarious cast (Nicholas Dubberley, Amy Jones, Susannah Frith, Andi Snelling, Colin Craig and Antony Okill) revel in the mucky humour, there are times when they seem to be enjoying it a bit too much. The moments when they step away from charater and the ridiculous world to pull the plastic safety curtain across are perfect, but they need to decide if the world they are slipping and sliding in is real and dangerous or a playground for buffoonery.
As the mire gets stinkier by the day, Ubu Roi is going to fester until its grossness is squirmingly irresistible. So cover up and watch safely as 5Pound refuse to be safe and dull.