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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

KING UBU (article first published : 2005-10-6)

The year 2006 marks the one hundred and tenth anniversary of the premiere in Paris in front of a selected audience in 1896 of Alfred Jarry’s absurdist and – at the time, highly controversial - play, Ubu Roi. The production was to provide a fervent talking point of the city and, later on, the rest of the world and hundreds of actors have gone on to play the leading role. An embodiment of all that Jarry despised, Pa Ubu is obese, essentially stupid and prone to vulgar language and actions.

Manipulated by his ambitious wife, he is a man driven by greed to the point where absolute power corrupts absolutely. The continent of Africa has seen many of his counterparts, some still ruling as tyrants and milking their people dry for their own personal gain and satisfaction.

Robin Singh’s script of Ubu Roi places the action in a mythical state somewhere in Southern Africa where Ubu rises to the status of Chief of Stanger. His eventual aim is to be King of Pondo Land, once he has managed to eradicate the present wearer of the crown!

Allen Auld has directed the first-year students of the Department of Drama Studies at the Durban Institute of Technology in Jarry’s satirical farce. This is the students’ first production and, all things considered, they provide an amusing 50 minutes of entertainment.

To be completely effective Ubu Roi requires strong acting skills and experience in presenting absurdist theatre as a chilling reality without losing the humour. While these students have yet to acquire the experience and are still in the early days of their training, some strong potential talent is emerging from this cast.

It took me a while to tune in to Mondli Mabaso’s (Pa Ubu) speech patterns as he started off the performance extremely fast. He has also acquired an accent with Congolese/Nigerian overtones, for which all credit to him. He had settled into his character by the end of the play and I fully expect that he will grow in acting stature considerably during the run.

As his disgruntled and long-suffering wife, Nomagugu Banda (alternating with Kubeshnie Norainsami) has good stage presence and clear diction. Somewhat at odds with his cross-dressing role as Captain, Luke O’Gorman needed to give a more “solid” performance to offset his appearance. I liked Ntokozo Nxumalo as King Pondo who brought dignity to his role and the other members of the cast acquitted themselves well.

The star of the evening for me was Lungani Ngcobo as Boggelas. Here was a completely focused, articulate and energy-filled performance. Watch him closely!

Directed by Allen Auld, King Ubu runs nightly at 19h00 at DIT’s Courtyard Theatre, Mansfield Road, from October 6 to 8. There will be an extra performance at 16h00 on October 8. Tickets R15 (R5 students). Entrance is free for students with student cards. – Caroline Smart




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