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The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is convoluted, unashamedly didactic and brimful of arcane references to the role of Germany's industrialists and landowners in allowing the emergence of Hitler and his murderous bootboys. This school-primer quality to a play written in 1941, in the Finnish part of Brecht's exile (later recalled in a poem as "changing countries more often than we changed our shoes") has left it rarely performed. Since a notable incarnation with Simon Callow in 1978, it has been relegated to the file of rarely aired Brechtiana. 

Now Henry Goodman, one of the few British actors with a lively interest in German literature, has donned the garb of the misfit Chicago gangster, tormenting the cowardly denizens of cauliflower trade in the extended allegory of Hitler's rise to power in Germany. Jonathan Church's production (part of the Chichester Festival and transferring to London's Duchess Theatre) is a grimly comical tour de force which makes the best of Brecht's satire and anger. A cracking reworking of George Tabori's translation by Alistair Beaton smoothes away its repetitiveness, while allowing the lilt of the German parody to shine through: "No violence, just emphasis," as Ui's heavily armed persuaders would put it.

None of this would have been possible without an outstanding performance by Goodman. We meet him as a nervy, self-flagellating wreck, so ill co-ordinated that he turns an attempt at a soulful piano solo into a scene of clumsy pratfalls worthy of the Marx brothers. The physical impersonation channels Bruno Ganz in the film Downfall, complete with manic, jerky movements and the hand-trembling behind his back. But there is no doubting the monstrosity behind the humour.

In Simon Higlett's design, a halting Ui speaks first from makeshift balconies and later, having bullied, beaten and shot dissenters into silence, from a raised platform reminiscent of the Nuremberg Trials, while his thugs run up a gangway into the audience, leaving no doubt of the wider public's complicity in Hitler's elevation. Goodman unleashes the full, spitting, sweating force of fear-mongering so intense that we ask ourself when (or whether) we would have said, "Enough."

The supporting cast, from "good old Dogsborough" (William Gaunt) representing  the doddery President Hindenburg who disdained the parvenu but somehow ended up appointing him Reichskanzler, to Michael Feast, the sensual, sadistic Roma (Ernst Röhm) all shine. It's easy to forget that Brecht, despite his reputation as a dour Marxist, was disruptively funny and a fan of Charlie Chaplin: the scene in which a ham actor (Keith Baxter) instructs a tone-deaf Ui how to recite Shakespeare is a delight of careful mistiming and mangled classics. 

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