Royal Lyceum Theatre
“Our reign of terror,” says Pa Ubu at one point in director William
Kentridge, writer Jane Taylor and Handspring Puppet Company's
reimagining of Alfred Jarry's grotesque fable on power, corruption and
lies to post-apartheid South Africa, “was no reign of error.” Wandering
the stage like an overgrown baby in grubby vest and Y-fronts, Ubu here
is a general on the make, whose liaison with Ma Ubu may look as
multi-cultural as it comes, but is one which hides a multitude of sins.
Much of this comes out by fusing Jarry's play with real-life
testimonies from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
in which witnesses laid bare a litany of institutionalised brutality.
These testimonies are relayed by puppets, operated by a trio of
performers, with English translations provided by the other performers
situated in a glass booth beside them. They are visualised even more
powerfully in a series of chalky monochrome animations by Kentridge,
which are projected onto a billboard at the back of the stage and
counterpointed with archive footage of real-life Township massacres.
Both devices lend a Brechtian simplicity to a production first seen in
1997, when the Commission was still ongoing, as do the puppets of Ubu's
wild dogs and a crocodile who gobbles up any incriminating evidence.
As the Ubus, David Minnaar and Busi Zokufa capture the full grubbiness
of their domestic bliss and the warped ambitions that drive them. It is
Ubu's final speech to the commission that lets him away with murder
before he and Ma Ubu sail off into the sunset, however, which suggests
a whitewash of the highest order.
The Herald, August 29th 2014