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Ubu Roi Review: Perfect End to the Year for Theatre at UBC

There is only one word to describe UBC Theatre’s delivery of Alfred Jarry’s infamous Ubu Roi: ri-fucking-diculous. Of course, this is said with an entirely positive stigma. The production captivated the audience, allowed the actors to stretch their skills beyond their imagination, and also told a story within a story—more on that later.

Ubu Roi… where to begin? Well the concept of the play is in itself outlandish: Père Ubu starts off as a man yearning for a simple life, while Mère Ubu encourages him to fight for power, fame, fortune. After killing off the King of Poland, the royal family, the Polish nobility class, and the magistrates, he becomes enraged with power and enforces absurd taxes and ludicrous laws, driving the Polish people further and further toward rebellion. Ubu’s henchmen run away to Russia to declare war on Poland with the Russian Tsar; many battles ensue, blood sheds, but, eventually, the Ubu’s are able to fend them off, fleeing to France toward the end of the play. Many of Ubu Roi’s motifs are drawn from Shakespearian plays: Hamlet, Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale and Richard III.

That already sounds preposterous, correct? Now imagine the play being performed by a cast of schoolgirls. Young, “innocent”, precious schoolgirls take on this challenge as a last performance together as a class—a play within a play. This is where the comedy really lies—forget about the concept of the play: it’s all about the performance. Traditionally Ubu Roi is performed by a cast of schoolboys, but the all-female cast is able to take the ridiculousness to another level.

The amount of energy taken place on set designer Sarah Melo’s outstandingly bizarre stage is more than many people can handle in one setting, yet the audience must go with the flow. The chaos that ensues between the characters and the scene changes really top this overdramatic production; this is also helped by Chengyan Boon’s incredible lightening design. The actresses, such as Lara Deglan (Billy Jean), Kat McLaughlin (Mary-Jane), Sarah Harrison (Vivian/Mère Ubu), and Catherine Fergusson (Minnie/Prince Bougrelas), all emphasize the epitome of hilarity with their ménage of characters. They all stepped outside of the box to perfect their character’s nonsense.

But, there was one character that was truly centre stage: Naomi Vogt as Addy/Père Ubu. She told a story within a story. In the beginning, as Vivian (Harrison) is doling out roles, she forces Addy to take the part as Père Ubu. Addy is seemingly skeptical to take the part, but throughout the play she becomes more and more unreasonable, ridiculous and insane, as if taking the part as Père Ubu has changed her. Just as Père Ubu’s maniacal killings made him drunk with power, Addy soon begins to take over the play, even killing off poor Lizzie (Charlotte Wright), the sound and lightening gal who has taken abuse throughout the entire play. Addy and Père Ubu seemingly became one person by the end of the night, and it was quite interesting to watch that story unfold.

Not every scene was thoroughly well done: much of the second half became a bit too nonsensical—and loud—that even the schoolgirl cast members were at some points confused. But, the audience still was transfixed, much in part to Addy’s role (Vogt) as the second half played into her decent into madness.

It was surely an amazing end to the year for UBC Theatre as Ubu Roi was able to showcase all facets of the outstanding UBC Theatre department: the actresses brought this 118-year-old play back to life, the set and lightening design played well into the chaos on stage, and, while the play is basically nonsense, there were moments of morality that were stimulating. Well done, you fantastic shitters.

Photo credits: Nancii Bernard

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