interviews: Owen Bleach On Ubu Roi
We sat down with Owen Bleach, the wonderful actor behind the outrageous titular character of our Brighton Fringe play, Ubu Roi.
Owen, this will be the second time you've taken on the role of Ubu Roi with us (following our 2016 tour). Can you tell us a little bit about the play?
Ubu Roi is a French surrealist play written at the end of the 1800's. It follows a despot's rise to power, as he transforms from a greedy snivelling coward into a money grabbing, power-mad king.
Drawing on themes from Macbeth and Hamlet, Ubu is thrust onto a road of murder and treachery by his equally villainous wife, and is hounded at every turn by the last surviving member of the Polish royal family, a family Ubu himself rained fire and fury down upon in order to ascend to his throne.
Jarry was very politically motivated and wanted Ubu to be a reflection on the state of politics in France at the turn of the 20th century. This scathing social commentary culminated in a weird and wonderful piece of theatre that leaves us as excited as I am exhausted by the end.
How does it feel, playing 'King Shit'?
Ubu is definitely a hard character to inhabit. He truly is the worst parts of human nature all stirred up into an evil gumbo. Through the text I have managed to find a level of vulnerability, especially in the first act of the play. Ubu is essentially a coward who gets torn out of his comfort zone and is slowly but surely turned into a complete monster.
It's a great example of absolute power corrupting absolutely.
There is also a weird level of cathartic joy being so disgusting for an hour; there is a vile monologue half way through the play and by the end of it I have to be so venomous in order to reach those heights that I have to pour every ounce of venom I have into it - there is something quite nice about exhuming my demons in a safe space.
How do you get inside the head of such a repulsive character?
One of the things I found the hardest was finding a way to portray Ubu that wasn't just a caricature: the first few times I read the piece all I could see was this two-dimensional villain.
The play has some truly hilarious moments in it and there is definitely a clown part to Ubu's character, so colouring him with both light and shade was pretty damn difficult.
I found playing him like a little lost child who gets buffeted from one horrific event to another really allowed me to play the full range that is needed for this piece, and I can just let the text do all the hard work.
Why this play? Why now?
Such a major theme of Ubu is the fact that those in power are only there to further their own gains. I personally feel that this is true in our current government as much as is has ever been.
I feel that a lot of the Brexit campaign was headed by career politicians who were only in it to further their own career.
Money seems to be a primary motivation for this government: whether it is in the turning of a blind eye to off-shore bank accounts, aiding spouses whose companies' stand to make huge profits from political decisions, or even basic tax avoidance - the greed is rife, and, as we see in the play, it is those who are most vulnerable, who are worst off, that suffer the most. The play was written over 100 years ago and the themes are harrowingly relevant today.
How do you feel about the Brighton Fringe, and the potential of there being no 2019 fringe?
Theatre in England is already at such a massive disadvantage. The huge cuts to the Arts Council we have seen over the years and the lack of any sort of "rep theatre" means that emerging talent has very few platforms to launch from.
The Brighton Fringe has been a safe haven for me as a Brighton born actor to explore my craft.
I wouldn't be an actor if it wasn't for the Brighton fringe. As a young man I was inspired by plays that graced us each May.
After emerging from drama school, I got to cut my teeth on interesting and innovative plays with some much more experienced actors, the whole process teaching me so much.
The Brighton fringe has taught me how to produce and perform my own shows, and if we were to lose it, it would be a devastating blow, not only to Brighton's culture, but to everyone, young and old, who has a story they have not yet had a chance to tell.
Ubu Roi will be showing at The Blockhouse at The Warren, on the 7th, 27th and 28th May at 8pm. Tickets available now: https://www.otherplacebrighton.co.uk/3320/ubu-roi