This week I went to see the Cheek by Jowl production of Ubu Roi (Ubu the King).

Written by Parisian dandy Alfred Jarry at the turn of the twentieth century, Ubu Roi is a chaotic and surreal play which focuses on human lust for authority and pokes fun at the modern, self-seeking man. Ubu Roi and his wife plot to overthrow King Wenceslas in order to rule the kingdom, in the process ridding the country of it’s aristocracy, its legal and financial systems, sending the kingdom into the same disorder which rules over this ghastly couple.

Donellan’s production captivates the audience by constantly throwing us off guard, challenging our perceptions (of just about everything throughout the two hours of the play). The Shakesperian storyline smacks of Macbeth and the powerful mis en scene and arresting visual effects bring out the topsy turvy elements of this production – all unexpectedly swinging onto the backdrop of a high society dinner party. Elegant and formal scenes were sliced through by depraved hiatus where characters burst into sexual depravity and act like gremlins. Donellan uses the twisting and curling of crazed physical performance to suggest that under our veneer of civil society, Ubu and his wife (and maybe all of us) are driven by primal instincts towards barbaric and savage behaviour.


This production is visually stimulating, chopping and changing hazardously. One particularly memorable part was where the Ubu takes a toilet brush and a hand blender to King Ubu after plotting under the table, filmed by a video camera to rock music (somewhat similar to a scene from Natural Born Killers). It’s funny and alarming – the fascination of the abomination!

Showing at the Barbican Silk Street Theatre until the 20th of April. Click here for details and here for the trailer!