Drama students journey into the theatre of the absurd

It’s described as an absurd little play about an absurd little play.

Blackfriars’ Drama students are preparing to bring this year’s Senior production to the stage.

VUBUNK is a play about the play Ubu Roi, that most theatre scholars suggest launched the world into the theatre of the absurd,” said Drama Teacher Bob Becker, who has written and directed VUBUNK.

“First presented to a Parisian audience in 1896, Ubu Roi created a riot, with a normally genteel bourgeoisie standing on their chairs hurling abuse at each other and throwing objects at the stage.

“It is also a play about Alfred Jarry, the man who gave us Ubu Roi.”

Jarry, pictured, incensed Paris with his liberal use of profanities. He also upset Parisians with his disdain for the much-loved theatrical conventions of naturalism and realism by presenting a symbolist play without a well-structured plot, with two dimensional caricatures and a minimalistic stage design. But, more importantly, he challenged the privileged audience members with his attacks on nobility, the bourgeoisie and politicians.

“Alfred Jarry was an eccentric and was afforded celebrity status in Paris,” Mr Becker said. “He strolled the streets with his green parasol or cane, spoke in a bizarre, clipped voice, enjoyed shooting his pistols freely (he gave one of these to his friend, Pablo Picasso), drank too much absinthe and then went home to his apartment, which he had converted to be a half floor in height to accommodate his short stature.

Ubu Roi is crude, juvenile and unabashedly goofy. Every character that is presented on the stage is flawed. Yet it is a revered canonical text that is studied and referenced in most secondary and tertiary theatre courses.”

So, why has Blackfriars resurrected Ubu Roi and Alfred Jarry?

“Firstly, as a parody. The humour in Ubu Roi is as funny today as it would have been in 1896. The irreverent references to Macbeth and Julius Caesar are glaringly obvious,” Mr Becker said.

Mr Becker during the 2022 Senior Drama performance of SAST.

“Secondly, the caricatures are written in the finest tradition of commedia dell’arte slapstick, with bizarre twists at every turn.

“Thirdly, and most importantly, Jarry has shown us ‘the savage god’ as a warning of what can happen when men without morals or conscience find themselves in positions of power. In 1896, who would have thought that Ubu Roi would get so many things right – despots without conscience, show trials, genocide, the forced famine of 1933 and senseless world wars.”

Photograph from Michael Meschke’s production of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, 1964. Set design by Franciszka Themerson and photographs by Beata Bergström.

And, finally, why VUBUNK? The term Va banque comes from a 19th-century card game that features a risky choice where a player puts everything at stake; he can win everything, or lose everything.

VUBUNK is written and directed by Bob Becker, with original music by Charli Holoubek.

VUBUNK, James O’Doherty Theatre, Blackfriars Priory School, Wednesday 9 August. Tickets available NOW.


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