Thirty years on, Thomas and Pere Ubu have revisited the play as part of the South Bank's Ether festival, in order to "pay off a debt to Jarry". Thomas has rewritten and updated Jarry's provocative original text, but sadly he has not improved it. Jarry's richly scatological nonsense language, all "nob-box" and "dogbum", has been sacrificed, and an already oblique plot is concertinaed to the point of impenetrability.
For the most part, the audience simply has no idea what is going on. It does not help that Thomas, a compelling rock front man, is no actor. Who needs them? He exits, slamming the door. Thank God! In a week I may be Queen of Poland. The stage represents a room in Papa Ubu's house where a splendid table is laid. I'm dying of hunger. Mama Ubu, you are quite ugly today.
Is it because we're having guests for dinner? I am going to bite into this bird. It is a chicken, I believe. Hey, this isn't bad at all! What will our guests eat? I won't touch another thing. Mama Ubu, go to the window and see if our guests are coming. Meanwhile Papa Ubu filches a slice of veal.
What are you eating, Papa Ubu?
He ate the veal! The door opens.
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We have been waiting for you impatiently. Do be seated. But where is Papa Ubu?
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Gadzookspot, by my green candlestick, I'm fat enough to be easily visible. Be seated, men. They all sit. I almost went right through my chair.
Is there anything else? I'm going to sharpen my teeth against your calves. Here's some of the Polish. I have an idea. I'll be back in a minute.
Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi
He exits. Long live Mama Ubu! He is holding an incredibly disgusting toilet brush which he throws into the midst of the banquet. Captain Barbage, I'd like to have a few words with you. Everybody out!
Stay, Barbage. Nobody moves. By my green candlestick, I'm going to knock you out with ratsky cutlets. He begins to throw some at them. ALL: Oh! Defend us! I'm really making a hit. ALL: Every man for himself! Wretched Papa Ubu! I can breathe again, but I have dined most execrably.
PERE UBU: Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi: CD
Come, Barbage. I thought you were poor as a beggar, Papa Ubu. I am his mortal enemy, and I'll answer for my men. I love you dearly, Barbage! Don't you ever wash? But it was so liberating. They totally would never do anything like that these days. That was back when people were free, and were allowed to say things and have opinions and be rebellious.
It was a unique time. It was the last days of freedom.
Pere Ubu - Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi - KKBOX
DT: There was a great advantage back then. It used to be that isolation was caused by geography. Mountains and rivers and streams. Well, in the 60s, isolation was caused by reception limitation. So everything was regional. Radio playlists were regional and changed from city to city, so you could have a hit in Ohio that was totally unknown in Michigan.
There was so much time to fill. It was a brave new technological frontier. That meant anybody could get on.
Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi
When you have pockets of isolation, interesting stuff happens. You get characters coming along, and they ferment, and it breeds and it creates. Those are different times. The metaphor of the pendulum swinging back: no, the pendulum only swings one way. Which is, it just gets shit.
Do you think British musicians have had a detrimental effect on the course of rock music? One of the prime movers of the underground years in Russia, a fellow called Artemy Troitsky, said that the most ordinary garage band in Wichita, Kansas has far more authenticity than The Rolling Stones — not to pick on them — or any English band, because the music is in their blood.
It comes natural to them. The geography is not in your blood. I think the peak of English culture musically — and I hate to admit this in public — was prog rock of the 70s. All that stuff that people like Soft Machine, Henry Cow, Van Der Graff Generator and all those guys were working on was intrinsically English and, as usually happens with English culture, the English despise it and kill it. They do it all the time.