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UBU THE CZAR – a buffoonery that makes fun of tyranny

On December 31, the premiere of the play Ubu Czar. The 21st Century Šėpa, based on the play Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry, and directed by Gintaras Varnas will take place in the Youth Theater. Playwright Sigitas Parulskis is currently working on a play that he’s writing especially for the performance. The main character – Ubu Czar-Putin – will be played by actor Vytautas Anužis. Author of the stage design – Gintaras Makarevičius. Author of the puppets – Julija Skuratova. Composer – Martynas Bialobžeskis.

Like many creators today, we are faced with a challenge – how to talk about the human and humanitarian consequences of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, which are still difficult to measure?” The plays by foreign directors Sergej Loznica and Arpad Schilling, The Erinyes and Barbarians, staged at the Youth Theater last year, were an attempt to do this from a broader historical perspective, expressing the theater’s public stance. Ubu Czar, directed by Gintaras Varnas, will express it in a different way and in a different artistic register, – says Audronis Liuga, head of the Youth Theater.

At the end of the 19th century, Alfred Jarry, enfant terrible of the French avant-garde, created the portrait of a militant idiot Ubu. Like no other, he became a harbinger of the era of narcissistic dictators of the 20th century. The grotesque reality of Ubu contrasted with the reality of revolutions and wars caused by dictators, who sought not only to change the world, but also to consolidate their personal cult. The result, however, was usually the same as in Ubu’s world – a big fiasco. Only with enormous losses of human life. Today we say that history has taught us nothing. On the contrary, its falsification has inspired wars in the 21st century. Dictators of our time differ from their predecessors only in that they have turned lies and falsification of facts into their main state ideology and brainwashed millions with it.

During the times of the struggle for Lithuania’s Independence, Šėpa Theatre performances created by Gintaras Varnas left no one indifferent. The nerve of time pulsated in them. According to the director, he stopped the activity of this theater “when life changed, the national liberation revolution was over and such a theater seemed to have lost its meaning. I have realized that such a theater, a political cabaret, belongs in wartime. Therefore, it makes sense to revive the tradition (which, by the way, is even older, dating back to 1939, when the Polish student Szopka Wileńska was active in Vilnius and even had a puppet of Hitler(!)), with new characters now that a new massive war is taking place.”

According to Varnas, his new performance Ubu the Czar with the subheading “Šėpa of the 21st Century” “should be funny, but hardly fun”. The two stylistic “foundations” of the play consist of the world of Ubu, where Ubu-Putin lives, mucks about, screams, barks and sings with his gang, and the “Šėpa” theater-closet, which will accommodate our “World” and its puppets: from Macron and Orbán to Scholz, Biden and Zelensky. The West, whose mercantile and hypocritical relationship with the new Russian czar has allowed him to thrive, to feel equal among equals and even to start military conflicts.” In this world, “we, the free people, the free world, take pride in our values and will defend them, but we’d rather not have to…”