(Dominic Cavendish’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 7/20; view the play 7/26 on the Telegraph Web site.)
“School-boy humour” tends to get a bad press. But where would theatre be without it? As a golden opportunity arises to watch Cheek by Jowl’s acclaimed production of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi from the comfort of your computer screen – seize it! – it feels only right to bow and scrape a bit before Jarry’s seminal act of juvenile disrespect.
On the 10th December 1896, in Paris, this five-act comedy in which a mad-cap Macbeth-like couple called Ma and Pa Ubu gain, then lose, the Polish throne in a frenzy of stupidity, venality and treachery, caused a right old stink.
A riot, albeit one part-instigated by its young author – who wanted as much booing as cheering – greeted its cavalier disregard for bourgeois niceties and naturalistic conventions, beginning with what is now one of the most notorious opening lines in modern drama: “Merdre”, or as the Methuen-published translation playfully puts it: “Pschitt!”
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