Henry Goodman returns to monstrous farce with the West End transfer of Chichester’s critically acclaimed The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, one of the most shocking dramas that you’ll ever see in the theatre.
There’s a scene which renders audiences completely numb and, in many cases, overcome with emotion. I defy you not to be similarly moved.
Bertolt Brecht’s parable about the rise of Hitler, which is now running at the Duchess Theatre, sees a sad excuse for a wise-guy gangster in 1930s Chicago, come from nowhere to become the Big Cheese or, in this case, The Giant Cauliflower.
There’s a lot of talk about cauliflowers but anyone who knows their 20th century history will pick up the references. We may be among caricature Mafia hoodlums and corrupt officials and union leaders but the reality is far more sombre. Behind the black comedy there’s a story being played out that is all too familiar.
Goodman gives an electrifying virtuoso performance. His ability to transform himself through a series of gestures and nuances is extraordinary. In the beginning he barely registers on the radar of the existing mobster hierarchy. He’s hunched back, terrified of his own shadow, unable to coherently articulate.
But he’s a man with ruthless ambition who worms his way in, taking lessons from a drunk old thesp in how to walk, talk and command an audience. I swear Goodman actually grows in stature as Ui’s rampant drive sees him use strong-arm tactics to take over the protection rackets and then ultimate control.
There are some superb supporting performances from Michael Feast as a very dapper henchman Ernesto Roma; William Gaunt as the corrupt City Hall chief Dogsborough (Hindenburg); and Joe McGann, as mobster with a liking for his victim’s hats, Emanuele Giri (Göring).
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is the blackest of comedies with Henry Goodman’s commanding performance worth the price of a theatre ticket alone.
Every bit as irresistible as its sellout run in Chichester.