Kyla Goodey in Ubu
Kyla Goodey in Ubu

Kneehigh have long been firm favourites of mine for their colourful, edgy and unique shows, and this new show takes a step further into the immersive space now filled by so many theatre groups. You are no longer just witnessing the story: you are part of it.

Ubu: A Singalong Satire is a show where the audience stand in the pit or on terraces set up in the stalls of the beautiful Shoreditch Town Hall. There’s a traditional stage, with musicians, and a large, raised circular space where scenes from the story of Ubu’s takeover of power in the town of Lovelyville are played out.

Mike Shepherd and Katy Owen's entrance as the Ubus
Mike Shepherd and Katy Owen’s entrance as the Ubus

The audience are encouraged to join in by singing along, dancing, moving about, and even joining in a few games. The cast mingle with the audience (many of them appeared to be on a school trip, and new to seeing this company), and sometimes even go on the attack against them.

Katy Owen and Mike Shepherd are Mr and Mrs Ubu, she as a tough fighter and he as a pouting grotesque – both are superb performers for this kind of material. Their state bodyguard and servant is one Shittabrique, a bullet-headed adherent to the ruling party, however they gained power.

Dom Coyote as Dallas, welcoming the crowd
Dom Coyote as Dallas, welcoming the crowd

Kneehigh, now under the guardianship of long-term member Shepherd and Carl Grose, continue to push the boundaries of what theatre can do with their inventive shows.  To see Ubu on the day of what had now proved to be one of the most divisive and one-issue elections in history felt apt, powerful, and oddly emotional. Their remit to “challenge, entertain and break the rules” has never felt more relevant.

I was a little apprehensive about this show due to the level of audience participation, but it retains the company hallmarks of humour, anarchy, and emotional engagement. The venue is welcoming. You can move around if you want to, there are places to sit and step back from the mayhem if you wish, there are two bars to keep you lubricated, and although the show is 150 minutes with only two short five minute “breathers”, it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Nandi Bhebhe and the Sweaty Bureaucrats
Nandi Bhebhe and the Sweaty Bureaucrats

As an eighties child I loved having a bop to Word Up, laughed at the hilarious use of Hello, enjoyed the parade of meglomaniac world leaders in The Great Pretender, and when Ubu made his first appearance to Firestarter, it seemed apt. The utilisation of Imagine, Perfect Day and What a Wonderful World as beacons of hope brought in the real heart which has characterised every Kneehigh production I’ve seen.

With Dom Coyote (also playing the ill-fated President Dallas) and Nandi Bhebhe providing fantastic vocals, together with the Sweaty Bureaucrats band, this piece flies musically. Kyla Goodey is fun and fiery as Bobbi (wife of Dallas, daughter of the Ubus); Niall Ashdown is a fine MC; and Robi Luckay displays muscle and delicacy as the maligned Shittabrique.

Audience suggestions to flush down the Ubu loo

Put simply, Kneehigh’s Ubu is one of the best shows this year, and you have several opportunities to see it on this tour. It continues at Shoreditch until 21 December then goes to the Marble Factory in Bristol (8-22 January), The Lowry in Salford (28 January-1 February), and Leeds Playhouse (4-8 February).

Show audiences were encouraged to take photos and videos: all in this post are mine.

LouReviews purchased a ticket to see Ubu.

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