Rich Pickings on Kneehigh’s Ubu


Photo: Steve Tanner

Kneehigh’s Ubu is billed as a ‘Singalong Satire’ and indeed the entire show includes well-known songs for the audience to join in. These range from Bowie’s Heroes to the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK; The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun to Lennon’s Imagine; Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger to Elvis’ Suspicious Minds.

The congenial host sees Niall Ashdown as Jeremy Wardle, part MC part supply teacher (most of the audience for this matinee being school kids and their drama teachers). After a brief spate as President Nick Dallas Dom Coyote is resigned to being a singing ghost after his assaination by Mr and Mrs Ubu (Katy Owen and Mile Shepherd).

Owen is small is stature (not quite the huge Ubu I was expecting) while Shepherd really camps it up. One of the many innuendos is the name of security agent Captain Shittabrique (Robi Luckay) who adds some athletic dynamism to the cast. While Nandi Bhebhe and the Sweaty Bureaucrats as backing band give the show plenty of swing.

Writer Carl Grose has corrupt and megalomaniac politicians quite firmly in his sights and this amuses the teenage audience no end (anarchy is this year’s thing for them). While his direction with Shepherd maintains a keen humour and irony throughout, both in the interpretation of the script (which is pretty loose) and its physicality (lots of slapstick and extreme gestures).

Michael Vale’s design is dominated by a huge toilet into which all things deemed bad are discarded (again to the delight of the kids – good old toilet humour). And Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography is fun and frolics throughout. My only reservation is that the sense of surrealism is a bit lost in all the ad libbing and improv in a way I’m not sure Ubu’s original Alfred Jarry would quite approve. But then Kneehigh are simply too irreverent to care!

An exciting and entertaining show that allows us to take out our frustrations on the Ubus to relieve our pent-up anger at the wrongs in society.

Reviewed by Rich Jevons on 6 February 2020 at Leeds Playhouse until 8 February.

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About richjevons23

Rich Jevons is a freelance journalist based in Leeds. Just a quick intro: thirty years' journalistic experience (I was published in the Yorkshire Post at the tender age of fifteen!); a decade as Arts Editor at Leeds Guide; freelancer including work for Big Issue in the North, Metro Newspaper, Artscene, Northern Exposure, AN, AJ, BJP, Hotshoe International, National Drama, Plays International... And edited until its demise at the end of 2013. Now writing predominantly for,,, and

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