Tag Archives: Alfred Jarry

Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire


Shoreditch Town Hall

Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire

Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire

Shoreditch Town Hall

Reviewed – 6th December 2019



“unabashedly uncool, in turn giving credence to its audience to be the same”


Besides overly confident children who’ve yet to be beaten down by the world, I’m going out on a limb and stating confidently that I don’t think anyone actually likes audience participation. The performers come stalking through the crowd, “Can I have a volunteer?” and everyone promptly stares intensely at their shoes or, armed with a child, pushes them to the front, sacrificing them in their stead.

Despite this, somehow Kneehigh’s Ubu manages to succeed in whipping the entire audience in to a giddy frenzy, belting out Bowie and Britney alike, eagerly volunteering for team games, cheering and booing with immense gusto.

The plot, originally written by Alfred Jarry, and turned upside down and inside out for this production by Carl Grose, is nearly irrelevant, just something to hang the evening’s entertainment on: The land of Lovelyville is lovely, ruled over peacefully by President Nick Dallas (Dom Coyote) and his teenage daughter Bobbie Dallas (Kyla Goodey), that is until one day Mr and Mrs Ubu (Katy Owen, Mike Shepherd) climb their way out of the sewers and start wreaking havoc.

Performances are consistently silly and melodramatic, and costumes follow suit: Mop heads serve as hair, spring coils as breasts and dunce hats as crowns (created under the supervision of Megan Rarity). There is zero effort to suspend any disbelief- in fact, there’s an active push in the other direction. At one point, on presenting a long stick, Mrs Ubu states, “This is more than a stick, this is a genuine African blow dart. Suspend your disbelief is you don’t believe me.”

The whole evening feels like complete chaos: aside from the constant breaks into song, one side of the audience is called upon repeatedly to act as a zoo; our host for the evening, Jeremy Wardle (Niall Ashdown) keeps interrupting scenes to give yellow cards for bad language; at some point a bear shows up… Multiple times throughout, I find myself admitting I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, but it doesn’t matter. And in fact, the nonsensicalness of the show is perhaps what allows everyone to let go of any manners or restraint and really lean in to the madness. The bar is also open throughout the evening, which no doubt aids in the audience’s loosening up.

The band (The Sweaty Beaurocrats) remains on stage throughout, as does a giant toilet, taking centre-stage, providing a handy entrance or a humiliating exit. An additional promenade stage (designed by Bill Mitchell) allows the standing audience to crowd around, like a benign mob, singing on cue whenever words appear on one of three giant screens. There is seating, but most of the audience is stood throughout, eager to join in the ruckus.

Regardless of whether you can carry a tune, or whether you even know the words, there is something incredibly freeing about belting your heart out in a big crowd, arms around strangers, caring not a hair that you’ve somehow been turned into an audience participant. Kneehigh’s Ubu, as co-directed by Carl Grose and Mike Shepherd, is unabashedly uncool, in turn giving credence to its audience to be the same. This is exactly what a Christmas show should be. Overwhelmingly silly and senseless, and one of the best nights out in London this December.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Steve Tanner


Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire

Shoreditch Town Hall until 21st December


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Madhouse re:exit | ★★★½ | March 2018
The Nature of Forgetting | ★★★★ | April 2018
We can Time Travel | ★★★ | April 2018
Suicide Notes … The Spoken Word of Christopher Brett Bailey | ★★★½ | May 2018
These Rooms | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Busking It | ★★★★ | October 2018
Shift | ★★★★ | May 2019
Gastronomic | ★★★★★ | September 2019


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Ubu Roi – 5 Stars


Ubu Roi

The Warren: The Blockhouse – Brighton Fringe

Reviewed – 27th May 2018


“The plot begins to unravel, buried under a barrage of abuse, bloodlust, and bizarre fighting that looks an awful lot like Morris dancing”


It is hard to know where to begin with Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry’s infamous, proto-absurdist masterpiece. Equal parts inspired and inane, the original production caused a riot at its Paris premiere and was subsequently banned from the French stage for several decades. Thank goodness such restrictions don’t apply to the Brighton Fringe.

Set in medieval Poland, the plot revolves around the grotesque figure of Pere Ubu, a capricious, cowardly, and infantile courtier with an insatiable appetite for food and sex. Together with his wife, the equally insatiable but altogether more intelligent Mere Ubu, our apparent hero conspires to kill the king of Poland and claim the crown for himself. The further up the food chain this insane figure rises, the more despicable, depraved, and hilarious he becomes. The plot begins to unravel, buried under a barrage of abuse, bloodlust, and bizarre fighting that looks an awful lot like Morris dancing. But reading between the lines of the crazed dialogue, it becomes clear that Jarry has hidden a deadly serious commentary on humanity itself. Just as in the world of Ubu Roi, real life is frequently ridiculous, unfair, and over much too quickly. Perhaps the only antidote is to laugh.

The madness is captured brilliantly by Squall + Frenzy, the Brighton-based company responsible for this production. Owen Bleach and Ada Dodds – Pere and Mere respectively – make for a hilariously dysfunctional double act, maintaining the hysterical tone of the piece without ever trampling on the story. A series of equally brilliant supporting characters are played by Chris Gates, Matt Grief, Tara Richards, and Matt Swan. Though the show may appear to unfold into complete anarchy, it is the tightness of the actors’ performances that make such an effect possible.

The audience gets dragged into the mayhem as well, regularly called upon to join in with the characters’ chaotic schemes or suffer the consequences of them. At one point a hapless punter fails to literally kill Owen Bleach – as opposed to his character – copping himself an angry earful from the Tsar of Russia (or perhaps from Chris Gates himself?). I myself am summarily executed along with several other members of the audience and later I nearly lose an eye thanks to one of Mere Ubu’s impressively spikey nipples (watch yourself if you sit in the front row). In a meltdown of petulant rage, Pere Ubu eventually attempts to have the entire world executed, including all the actors and the long-dead author of the play itself. It is reluctantly that he realises he must make do with those of us he has to hand.

I love the idea that someone could stumble into Ubu Roi without any concept of theatre. Perhaps only under those conditions could a person truly appreciate Jarry’s absurd message. For those of us who have arrived willingly, we realise that the play is an entertainment, and that the ridiculous childishness is all part of the fun, and perhaps even rather clever. But for a viewer unaware of what they are seeing, the ensuing assault on their senses and dignity -especially in this immersive format – would only be marginally more terrifying than seeing the crowd they are in laughing and cheering as Ubu becomes ever more depraved. But as the “Make Poland Great Again” slogan on Squall + Frenzy’s poster suggests, perhaps such a reality isn’t so surreal after all.


Reviewed by Harry True


Ubu Roi

Brighton Fringe



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