In two specially created performances for Southbank Centre's ETHER 08 festival, expressionist avant-garage rock band Pere Ubu presents the world premiere of Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi, an adaptation of Ubu Roi (King Ubu), Alfred Jarry's landmark 1896 play that inspired the band's name and is widely seen as the precursor to the Absurdist, Dada and Surrealist art movements.
At the heart of Jarry's original production was the use of various performance media, and Pere Ubu's show reflects this with a unique visual staging by the enigmatic Brothers Quay, accomplised through intriguing stop-motion animation projections. Singer David Thomas will feature as Père Ubu, partnering Sarah-Jane Morris (ex-Communards) in the role of Mère Ubu, and the production includes an original music score by the band Pere Ubu and 10 new songs. Gagarin, aka London-based former Ludus, Nico and John Cale drummer Graham Dowdall, will contribute an electronic soundtrack.
With this part music, part spoken word, part animated production on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, David Thomas of Pere Ubu realises an ambition he has had since being turned on to Alfred Jarry as a 16-year-old high school student in Cleveland, Ohio. David Thomas said: "Jarry's ideas resonated with feelings I had about the use of abstract, concrete and synthesized sound in the narrative architecture of rock music, all tools to engage the imagination of the listener when detailing the picture told by the music and lyrics."
Ubu Roi is a play for the mind and imagination. It is a drama of ideas and grotesqueries, and a fusion of several disparate and incongruous elements. It shocked early audiences with its blend of grotesque absurdity, wild humour and coarse language. At the premiere in 1896, the very first word of Ubu Roi ("merdre," translated as "shitter") provoked a riot amongst the audience and fist fights broke out in the orchestra.
Alfred Jarry's plays in general were widely and wildly hated for their vulgarity, brutality, low comedy and complete lack of literary finish, and his work revealed a lack of respect for royalty, religion and society that prompted some to see his output as the theatrical equivalent of an anarchist bomb attack and an act of political subversion.
Prior to the Friday performance, there's a free event in the Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, entitled Pataphysics in Sound. This specially curated musical journey through the history of "pataphysics," the science of imaginary solutions, celebrates the genius of Alfred Jarry, creator of Ubu Roi and literary madman, time-travelling, absinthe-drinking, pistol toting, and cycling maniac.
Pataphysics In Sound Friday 25 April, The Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, 5.30pm, Admission FREE This is a specially curated journey through the history of "pataphysics" in sound to celebrate the genius of Alfred Jarry, creator of Ubu Roi and all round literary madman, pistol toting, and cycling maniac.
TICKET OFFICE: 0871 663 2500 www.southbankcentre.co.ukDavid Thomas on the process of collaboration with the Brothers Quay:
"Well, it's pretty simple. If someone wants to work with me then they have the right stuff. Working with me is guaranteed career endangerment, not to be undertaken lightly. I had no idea of who the Quays were. Everybody else seems to know but I don't watch films, tv or video unless a space ship or baseball is involved. The Quays don't involve themselves with either. So how am I supposed to know? I don't make the Rules. I obey. We met. We talked. We immediately understood each other and the project and how it all would fit together. I don't trust visual information of any kind. The Quays were clearly men who were capable of taming the Eye Beast. I told them I'd be delighted to stay out of their way and let them get on with doing what they feel most. They sent me pictures. They were, as I knew they must be, perfect. No space ships. Or baseball. But perfect nevertheless. Only people who don't understand need to talk. We have no need of talking. Talking is for the weak, the uncertain... and girls. Ha-ha! (I mean it.) We are men who stand in the moment and can deliver the goods. So down to the process: Only work with people who are Masters, and who Understand. If you choose to work with such people then don't get in their way unless they appear to be set on a course that will break The Rules. Don't make up the Rules. Don't work with people who feel the need to talk to you. Don't work with children or animals. Don't run into the furniture."
David Thomas has a long-standing relationship with Southbank Centre. In April 1998 he curated the four-day festival David Thomas: Disastodrome! featuring the premiere of Mirror Man. In February 2005 David Thomas performed "Starship" with the combined MC5/Sun Ra Arkestra in the Royal Festival Hall, and he has made appearances during various Meltdown festivals, including the performance of "Alabama Song" with the London Sinfonietta during a Brecht tribute as part of Patti Smith's Meltdown in 2005 and he has also featured in the hugely successful Hal Wilner production of Forest Of No Return, an evening of Disney songs, as part of Jarvis Cocker's Meltdown in 2007.