Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi premiered on 10 December 1896 in Paris, causing riots in audiences. It is considered one of the first absurdist plays with influence on the dada and symbolist movements in art. Revolving around a tale of excess and power, Ubu Roi seemingly aims to upset – and Mermaids are bringing it to the Byre for two nights. During their busy dress rehearsal in the St.Age last Sunday, The Saint met with director Gabriele Uboldi and writer Ryan Hay to discuss what makes their production stand out.
“Most of the work I’ve done in St Andrews has been “safe” compared to this. This is a play that caused riots when it premiered – we could say I’m trying to do something more radical”, Hay began. Taking on a satire was an opportunity for a change of tone: he admittedly writes serious plays and adaptations regularly, and Ubu Roi presented a chance to focus on the topical issues of power and excess with humour. With the source material renowned as a radical piece on its own, Hay tried to bring that aspect to the St Andrews theatre scene. “My version is sleazier than the original. Production style was very much influenced by the way I adapted it. I wrote this adaptation knowing that we were going to have a certain kind of story and music; I wrote it around that concept, which in the world of theatre may not be as radical, but in St Andrews it’s definitely unusual.”
When asked about the challenges of staging the play, Uboldi highlighted the unique themes it explores: “The themes are not necessarily what you are used to. It’s not Shakespeare or something many people love. It aims to make something new in theatre, […] and this radicality gave me a lot of freedom as a director. It involved a lot of creative thinking: we knew what kind of music we wanted. Marcus [Cork-Keeling] from Wax Rooms joined us, while some of the The Blue Angels hip-hop team are doing choreography for the show. We want to put focus on the bodies of the actors, and especially movements. We have developed a precise aesthetic with black costumes.” Uboldi then pointed at a life-size teddy bear on the floor, which was providing a soft surface to lean on for tired cast members. “There’s a bear that gets thrown at somebody”, Hay clarified. “We are rehearsing with the bear. We had to walk around town with it, and got a few funny looks.”
At this point, a popular Gesaffelstein song exploded from the speakers during the rehearsal process, showing off some promising musical choices for the show. As a final question, Uboldi and Hay were asked to choose an aspect of their adaptation they would like their audience to keep an eye out for. “There are so many talented people behind our production. I’d just like our audience to spot all the different hands that were involved in making it,” Hay replied, while Uboldi agreed, “The many collaborators we have from various fields are definitely something to keep an eye out for. Also, I would like people to go beyond the thoughts of “This is good or bad”, and ask themselves, “Why is this going on? Why are we watching this?”
Ubu Roi will be performed in the Byre Theatre tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are £8, and can be purchased on the theatre’s website: