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U.B.U. - A Cautionary Tale of Catastrophe

"mad eyed freaks and clowns take and take and take until there is nothing left"

Sydney indie company Tooth and Sinew is preparing to shed its "heavy" reputation, writes Richard Hilliar. And then some.

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Category: Theatre
Company: Tooth & Sinew
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UBU ROI: Seriously Funny

Date: 2 Sep 2019
And now for something a little different …

One of the central questions any independent company faces is what sort of stories they want to tell, what kind of narrative and artistic energy they want to send out into the landscape.

That question reaches its zenith when submission season opens and we’re all desperately trying to find “the” play that will win us a slot in one of the curated independent seasons around the city.

Our company, Tooth and Sinew, has kind of a style and it’s not unfair to describe that style as “heavy”.

So far, we have produced shows about siblings murdering their mother, an artist suffering persecution for honestly depicting a bloody sea battle, a young women indulging an Oedipal fantasy with a homeless man she’s kidnapped, and some paranoid chavs smashing a young man’s face in with a hammer.

We’re very proud of all the work we’ve created, but it wasn’t exactly easy going for an audience.

“Let’s do something fun. Something unapologetically fun.”

The co-director of the company suggested staging Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. It’s a play famous for its silliness, its scatological humour, its frantic unwillingness to take itself seriously.

A huge man takes over Poland and proceeds to rob everyone blind until he’s forced to flee to France. His sceptre is a toilet brush. He references his “green candle” endlessly. He was originally played by a puppet in the attic of some potty-mouthed French schoolboys.

At the same time, we felt a need to engage with the most pressing issue we, as a society, are facing: the climate crisis. If we take what scientists say seriously, that we have less than 12 years to prevent environmental catastrophe, how are we talking about anything else?

So we decided to do both. Take the energy and spirit of Ubu Roi and write a new adaptation, a version where these mad eyed freaks and clowns take and take and take until there is nothing left but dust and dried vomit.

I have never written a play before.

Being unable to enter the rehearsal room with a tried and tested script is certainly a new experience for us and an ensemble-based approach to the actual construction of the piece was something we as a company have never explored before. It felt appropriate for this show. We cast funny actors and let them loose: they were given the basic outline of a potential scene, a couple of points which had to be discussed and then left to their own impulses.

Improvisations could last close to an hour. The next rehearsal would arrive with some pages of a scene which were discussed, altered and, in many cases, thrown away. This went on until we had a play, which we decided to call U.B.U – A Cautionary Tale of Catastrophe.

I’m interested to see how people respond to this new work. It embraces toilet humour, childish bullying and neon tulle in a way that won’t be to everyone’s taste. It is frantic and frenetic and dopey and malicious. But it is very different from what we’ve done before and we feel it adds a unique and colourful voice to the existing Sydney theatre landscape.

As artists, we should take theatre very seriously. And sometimes that means acting like a clown.

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