May 30, 2016
On-stage theatrics, madcap musicians and weather that switched from feeling like actual summer into a heavy drape of gothic mist: Day Three turns out to be a day of drama – and not least because we finally got to see Ludens Ensemble’s production of Ubu Roi. Unexpectedly sunny Bank Holiday Sundays are meant to be savoured, and by early evening the courtyard is heaving with happy punters basking in the heat. Long before the doors open on the Peely Stage for the final night of Ludens Ensemble’s Ubu Roi, there’s a queue snaking across the cobbles. The theatre’s capacity is tight, and we’re lucky to be ushered in with the last wave of people willing to swap vitamin D for 90 minutes of ridiculous dramatic action.
Ubu Roi, written by Alfred Jarry, is a play with legendary status. When it was first performed in Paris, 1896 it caused a serious scandal: Jarry’s sweary, surreal, revolutionary work quite literally shat all over contemporary rules of the theatre, and high society’s expectations for serious, realistic drama. An immature, bloodthirsty protagonist – Pere Ubu – wields a toilet brush instead of a sceptre, and leads the audience through an increasingly ridiculous plot of battles, bitching, back-stabbing and bear attacks. It’s a notoriously hard play to stage, and Ludens Ensemble’s apparently “work-in- progress” version is a gross, hilarious interpretation.
On the Peely Stage, Pa Ubu introduces himself by spitting schnapps over his shirt, the other actors and most of the front row, too. He’s both pathetic and intimidating, he wears his stolen crown and regal furs with aplomb and manages to ensure that the plot is still discernable despite all the madness which follows. The props are amazing: eerie puppetry, a canine briefcase and a fleet of false teeth add an extra dose of carnival, and a wind-up baby chick steals the whole show. The rest of the (human) cast are fully committed to the silly seriousness of Ubu’s illogical imagination: a long, plaited pony-tail is used as a weapon, and by the end of the show they’re caked in glitter, dust, face paint and yet another fountain of schnapps. The story’s told through live camera work, projected animations and shadowed silhouettes, as well as farcical, slapstick violence. Director Philippos Philippou uses fancy new technologies (3D mapping! Motion capture!) to add modern-day magic to Jarry’s weird, irrational world. By the time Pa Ubu’s minced all the bankers in a bubble-machine, he’s demanding cash from his unimpressed public by showering a delighted, captivated audience in chocolate coins. His evil genius wife, Ma Ubu, points at a punter – “ooh look, that one’s had his brains bashed in.”
A pint later, for recovery purposes, we head to the Tempest Stage to warm up and find Mickey 9s in full force. The Glaswegian four-piece go hard on funky, indulgent bass lines, and borrow pows and zaps straight out of the Chillies’ dictionary with varying degrees of success. Songs about planets, setting suns and the numerical differences between US and UK emergency phone numbers are delivered with a solid ton of confidence and welcomed by a bopping crowd. Their glittery, hoody-wearing frontman incites enough excitement that a guy in a gas mask (really) conducts some serious moves at the front of the stage.
By 10pm the Long Room is rammed. A packed-out, eager audience is waiting for London indie-poppers Teleman, and the heat radiating from hundreds of sunburned faces is sticky to say the least. The four-piece emerge to a roar from the crowd, and the last show of the night is underway. Opening with Skeleton Dance, a jaunty, bare-bones number from their debut record, the band fly through a set that inspires hearty po-going from the front third of the room, and sweaty, happy shimmying from the rest. Brothers Thomas and Jonny Sanders, Pete Cattermoul and Hiro Amamiya first found fame with a 2013 single called Cristina, and it sounds just as ace a few years on – but the band’s newer material packs an extra punch. Newbies Fall In Time and Dusseldorf are precise, clean-cut pop songs, but Teleman blast through them with impressive, heavyweight gusto. After a triumphant finale with another older favourite, Not In Control, the band wave goodbye and good night. Straight from the heart, a man in front bellows an emotional “fuuuuuck yeahhhhh” in response, and then turns to us a bit embarrassed: “They really were that good though, eh?”