If May Can Theatre and Mi Casa got together and had a hyperactive French love child, it would be le Theatre de la Pire Espece. Last night I hopped over to the NAC to indulge in a little Franco-theatre, which I’m increasingly becoming convinced is an absolute necessity for any theatre fan with even a smidgen of French language skill in them. The current show was UBU SUR LA TABLE, based on the 1896 French play UBU ROI (Ubu the King) from Alfred Jarry. To see this show, the audience is led away from the main theatre and even the studio, down the stairs, past some likely curious customers in le Cafe, through a door marked ‘must remain closed at ALL times’, and into the bowels of the NAC itself until we reach the mythical land known as Rehearsal Hall A. There, on a makeshift stage littered with props, and standing behind a simple table draped with a black cloth, are Olivier Ducas and Francis Monty. Together, and armed only with an array of household objects and their oodles of talent and charm, they retell the farcical tale of the rather nutty Pere Ubu (here personified as a sort of sauce decanter).
Urged by his wife, a dishrag, to assassinate the king and seize his throne, Ubu leaps to power along with his right hand man, a hammer. The entire tale gets told in this fashion, culminating in a huge battle scene with legions of fork soldiers astride baguettes, egg-beater helicopters raining squishy-tomato death, and Ubu trying to avoid comeuppance at the hands (sort of) of the Kings son, an upside-down teapot. It’s insanely inventive and entertaining stuff that seems almost impossible to dislike, and even with my meager French skills I had no problem following along. Jarry’s tale plays with theatre and lifts liberally from Shakespeare and others, and Olivier and Francis have a ball adding their own jabs and gags into the mix. Having performed this piece some 700-odd times, they have a clearly polished rapport with each other and aren’t afraid to improvise. The result is an absolute giddy, childish joy, and one that shouldn’t be missed. English theatre fans, I’ll say it once again…if you’re missing French theatre, you’re missing out, period. See this show (twice nightly tonight and tomorrow)…and watch out for flying spoons. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)