[Fringe] ‘Ubu Roi’ & ‘Tommy Tiernan’

The King usurped, the usurper’s friends rejected, and then there’s a war.
“It’s basically Macbeth”.

Led by the Luden’s Ensemble, the vast world of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi is brought to life through more mediums and techniques than actors alone. From projection and shadow puppetry, to interactive live-streaming and an endless supply of props, you are transported through every location with some level of appropriate obscurity to match.

With a few ad-libs here and beautifully improvised physical segments there, for those that are familiar with the impact the Absurdist and Surrealist movements had on theatre, one can’t help wondering what Ubu Roi was to society then and what it is now, because it often varies greatly depending on the production. Ubu Roi opened and closed on the same night in 1896, causing riots and outrage in Paris. The sheer temerity of a play that mocked the bourgeoisie sealed its place in the art movements that followed, and over a century later, it has taken on canon status. Which then begs the question: when the avant-garde becomes canon, does the core message remain?

The energy and commitment to each characters’ physicality was unprecedented, showcasing clowning at its finest. Amidst the incoherence of Ubu Roi, the multiple mediums used to depict its world felt entirely natural, almost expected as you wait in anticipation for the next trick they had up their collective sleeve. But, unlike the original production of 1896, what is the subject of the play’s mockery in 2017, or indeed any of the (now) classic Absurdist texts? This incarnation was overwhelming on the senses and successfully designed to inspire the watcher’s imagination. But with the conventions of clowning and physical theatre having become less alien over time, it is not enough to disturb audience sensibilities and morals alone – there must be more that Ubu Roi can conjure up.

Ubu Roi‘, Demonstration Room, Summerhall

“I just report back on reality”.

The beauty of Tiernan’s stand-up lies in his method of story-telling. As much as it can be the literal telling of stories, there is often a mixture of philosophising and idea proposition. It is more than set-it-up-and-knock-’em-dead – sure, there are plenty of neat and repeatable one-liners, but often the jokes won’t end on a solitary punch-line.

A night with Tommy is a journey. Much like a rollercoaster, it pulls you in, getting you comfortable with the evening’s schedule. Then, seemingly without warning, after much mulling over of observations with often no connecting segway points, the show kicks into full swing. The pitch and volume increase, face flushed and veins raised, as if this next segment has been burning to get out, only to drop back into the safe and gentle tones as before.

Some people prefer clear, formulaic comedy routines that, when in the presence of something more akin to a court jester, become uncomfortable, and unsure of the etiquette – do I laugh now, or do I save it for the bigger jokes? Are there any? Is it ok to not laugh all of the time? But those worries are long gone by the end of the jam-packed hour Tiernan delivers, with exceptional professionalism and that classic Tiernan glint still firmly in his eye.

Tommy Tiernan: Under the Influence‘, Gilded Balloon Teviot


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