Thursday, May 01, 2008


Photo credit: Mark Mawston

Pere Ubu premiered its musical adaptation of the theater of Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry's groundbreaking 1896 play and the theatrical precursor to the Absurdist, Dada and Surrealist art movements, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on April 24 and 25. The adaptation, written by David Thomas, features 10 new songs as well as various musical "interludes." Independent film-makers The Brothers Quay have devised a unique visual staging in the form of animated projections. Sarah-Jane Morris (ex-Communards, Happy End, etc) features as Mere Ubu, partnering David Thomas as Pere Ubu. Gagarin adds an atmospheric soundtrack by means of electronica. Band members perform various minor roles.

Last week's gig/event "Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi" by Pere Ubu attracted less than favourable reviews. See here and here.

With a show like this and with a band like Pere Ubu press reviews are rarely going to be kind. They are hardly media darlings. My first reaction of reading some of these reviews of a concert I really wanted to see but failed to was one of relief. But the press rarely tell the full story....

Reports on the Pere Ubu forum were kinder (naturally) and more informative:
It was absurd, grotesque ... wonderful ... ubuesque! It was not a representation of the Alfred Jarry's play, it was a Pere Ubu (the band) show playing a "strange set-list" based on the play !The ten new songs are great, familiar and innovative too

Good stuff, I enjoyed it - always difficult to tell how much of the slapdash-ness is staged and how much genuine :-) The new music was good, too.

Report from David Thomas posted on
Thursday night, opening night, was a bit of a shambles. For various reasons, it was the first time we were able to run thru the piece from beginning to end. And a number of structural and technical problems were exposed. The most disruptive problems were (1) on stage we were unable to identify fade to blacks at the end of scenes (the stage was dark to start with and a fade to black on an already dark stage, we discovered, is hard to determine. Confusion amongst on-stage cast and musicians ensued); and (2) since the play's narrative is driven by song lyrics the audience had a hard time making out what was supposed to be going on. (I have subsequently discovered that the narrative of a musical is not usually carried by song lyrics. Hey! Who's to know these things? I thought that was the deal.) In any case, I inserted brief narrative interludes between scenes for the Friday performance and this seemed to fix the principal issues. Friday went relatively smoothly though some noted that they missed the tension and chaos of Thursday's performance during which I tried to cover clunky bits by throwing "rages," which had always been the backup plan.

All of which makes me REALLY wish I had seen the concert. I'd rather see a brave experiment - with rages and slap-dashness - than miss it. And I'd much rather trust the opinion of a punter than a pundit.

Too Much Sleep [BUY]

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