Review: U.B.U, A Cautionary Tale of Catastrophe – Kings Cross Theatre (NSW)

Written and directed by Richard Hilliar, produced by Tooth & Sinew

Review by Charlotte Smee

In a gloriously bonkers 120 minutes of theatrical perfection, U.B.U: A Cautionary Tale of Catastrophe throws Alice in Wonderland, the top three Shakespearean tragedies[1], Sesame Street, An Inconvenient Truth and a good helping of fart and poo jokes into a blender and fcucks them right up. If that sounds like the best thing you’ll see in Sydney theatres all year, find me on Instagram because we need to be friends.

Based on the absurdist/symbolist/ridiculous Ubu Roi, first performed in 1896, this version brings the vulgar idiot Pa Ubu (Angus Evans) to life as a white-faced, pink cheeked clown living in the times of “The Great Heatening”. He is happy with his tiny hat gifted to him by the King until Prime Minister Fuller Bjullschitt (Tristan Black) comes along, with Ms Medea Information (Rachael Colquhoun-Fairweather) and Dr Murray Faseema (Shea Russon) in tow, to convince him that he can be the new King of Pooland. All he must do is kill the good King Dumbc’nt (Idam Sondhi). Helped along by the dangerously ambitious Ma Ubu (Emily Elise), Pa succeeds, then surprises everyone by deciding that actually he would like to do something as King. What comes next is a whole lot of scarily familiar chaos.

The world of Pooland is lovingly created with set and production by Ash Bell; the stage, walls and floor underneath our seats were lined with chess set-esque black and white check linoleum. The cardboard props, from the opening marionette theatre to the dagger that kills King Dumbc’nt to a giant disembodied head of King Ubu, are at once silly and fabulously creative. Rainbow coloured lights by Ryan McDonald bring a clownish feel, amping up the huge wigs, bright white makeup, and garish suits by Tanya Woodland to a million. Puppets by Ebony Anne Zderic go from socks with pipe cleaner eyelashes to a very professional standard King Dumbc’nt, complete with detachable head.

Nonsense is famously difficult to write, and Hilliar takes it so far that it comes back to punch you in the face.

With Shakespearean actors amongst them, every member of the cast is fantastically fcucked. Gideon Payten-Griffiths as Prince Bitchard and Tristan Black as Fuller Bjullschitt/Mr Segue a.k.a Mr Big Finish are standouts – Black having also written music and lyrics for the genuinely excellent ‘Mr Segue’s Song’ and ‘The Big Finish’. Shea Russon and Rachael Colquhoun-Fairweather play off each other very well as the King’s incestuous sons and Bjullschitt’s cronies. Amy Victoria Brooks and Idam Sondhi similarly play both King Dumc’nt/Queen Lizardbreath and Wicker/Corduroy, the lefties, to hilarious heights. Nicole Wineberg as the “Fair and Lovely Princess Munt of the Batted Lash and Delicate Gesture” is convincingly angry, beautiful, and hopeful. Evans and Elise are disgusting, grotesque, bogans in the worst (best?) way – never has sh*tting yourself on stage been so terrific.

Director/writer Richard Hilliar writes in his Director’s Note that “I very strongly believe you can sometimes make a point more successfully with humour than with overt seriousness”, and U.B.U achieves the most wonderful thing by being simultaneously cheek-achingly hilarious, terrifying, and critical of the world we live in. Nonsense is famously difficult to write, and Hilliar takes it so far that it comes back to punch you in the face. Climate anxiety and a call to action with a side of rainbow tulle, cardboard and poo jokes; U.B.U is a sh*t stain stroke of genius.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

U.B.U plays until the 28th May at KXT Theatre in Kings Cross. Tickets can be booked here.


[1] Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth – not necessarily the best, just the most-studied-in-year-10.


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