The most difficult plays – n° 6 : King Ubu
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about my summer challenge, hasn’t it?
You gave me emotions. I’m not used to. Beware, I am of French nationality but my blood and my name are Polish and my childhood is Algerian: just a little more and I would take you all to the Roman Catholic Church to thank little Jesus with me. I’m hardly joking: I almost presented to you L’ Annonce faite à Marie/ Tidings brought to Mary, a play by Paul Claudel – which is very very very difficult to stage, and which is a song of grace to Mary, mother of Christ. All right, I’ll keep this to myself.
King Ubu is really difficult because it’s completely… strange. As usual in the theatre, which is strange often gives a big mess on the stage. As the “pictures” are known, all you need is a big guy with a big belly and some kind of ugly spiral on his belly and it’s done.
Obviously it’s not.
Pa Ubu is a perfectly foolish man. Beastly and wicked.
Ma Ubu is even stupider and meaner than he is.
And it’s an almost ignoble mixture of Shakespeare and Rabelais, Macbeth and Pantagruel.
To begin with, Ubu is a pretty good officer for the King of Poland – he has all the places and honours he wants.
Yes, but his old shrew wants more: by killing the King, they’ll have more andouilles to eat.
And even they can have an umbrella.
The dumb stuff to get is Rabelais.
Killing the King who loves you is Shakespeare.
Of course, as in Macbeth… the infernal couple will kill the king.
And after that, it’s an absolutely uncontrolled slipup of the two characters.
Ma Ubu will never feel remorse. She would like to get her hands on the treasure of the kings of Poland and abandon her fat & stupid husband.
Pa Ubu, on the other hand, tries to ally himself with the people, is bothered by them and loses everything out of pettiness – taxes cannot be raised like that.
Everything is going very, very, very badly.
And here are our two idiots, chased away by means of sorting; boarding a small ship that will take them to France via Elsinore – no doubt to remember that between to be or not to be, there was a middle ground: to be a moron.
It is a play that can be very funny.
But like everything else in the comic register, failure can be so terrible.
At the moment when the director forces the line a little too much (which is completely useless, the author forces it hard enough), he misses the real comic, the one that makes you laugh without thinking about it, without being ‘fine’ or ‘smarter’. [do you say ‘thin’ or ‘fine’ for the humor, or is that a very French concept ? You’re not going to laugh like a boar when you’re ‘fine’: you’ll only laugh at the ‘witticisms’, at those remarks that you have to be able to understand – besides, you’re not laughing: you’re smiling.]
The scholarly books will tell you that Ubu Roi is a precursor work of Surrealism, of the theatre of the Absurd – and above all, even if I don’t dispute this in any way – above all it should not be taken into account for the staging: here again, trusting in the intelligence of the audience is the basis of the work.
This staging – Russian but in English – seems almost excellent to me (afterwards you should have seen everything) – because they went all the way to the end of the “nonsense”. It only remains to be seen whether they also managed to make the audience laugh out loud.
That’s the difficulty: you can slip so easily into a kind of laughter that isn’t one.
There is so much to be found in the play itself: countless extras, who look like they’ve been thrown on the stage with a shovel; a litteral brain-removing machine, places and therefore sets that we don’t even count anymore – and therefore a music to be imagined in order to set the rhythm and never lose it.
As for the actors: playing fools as foolish as those… then this is more than a performance! For my part, I’m burning my hands by dint of applauding those who will achieve this feat.
There – that was it: the return to the world of the performing arts.
And I didn’t even talk about how to exploit Ubu in virtuality. I’ve been telling you too much about that lately.
I hope you’ll forgive me for the mistakes – there will be some more hits, I managed to hurt my hand – I’m as careless as I am clumsy.
Featured Image : Jacques Rouxel – The Incredible Shadoks – The week’s motto: “To have as few disgruntled people as possible, always hit the same ones.” Ubu should have known!