Bertolt Brecht's Hitler allegory in Heiner Müller's original staging.

Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui

Bertolt Brecht, Heiner Müller, Berliner Ensemble

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Heiner Müller’s legendary staging of Brecht’s dark ‘Hitler-operetta’ has been one of the major successes of the famous Berliner Ensemble, featuring the brilliant theatre and film actor Martin Wuttke in the lead role. In his unadulterated satirical allegory, Brecht translated the rise to power of Hitler and his nazis to the gangland of Chicago in the 1930’s. Leading a preposterous procession of nazi caricatures, loathsome small time crook Arturo Ui is the alter ego of Adolf Hitler, an opportunist hooligan who is willing to go to any lengths to work his way up in the world. Ui and his gang are cunningly exploited by influential big business leaders to sideline traditional politics and allowed to seize absolute power.

Programme

Credits

direction
Heiner Müller
set design and costumes
Hans Joachim Schlieker
co-regie
Stephan Suschke
with
Martin Wuttke
Martin Schneider
Volker Spengler
Victor Deiß
Stefan Lisewski
Jürgen Holtz
Margarita Broich
Roman Kaminski
Axel Werner
Veit Schubert
Michael Rothmann
Uli Pleßmann
with
Thomas Wendrich
Stephan Schäfer
Jörg Thieme
Heinrich Buttchereit
Michael Kinkel
Stefan Suschke
Uwe Preuß
Claudia Burckhardt
Detlef Lutz
Larissa Fuchs
production
Berliner Ensemble

Background information

Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (The resistible rise of Arturo Ui) is a satrical allegory of the rise of Adolf Hitler, from his coup d’etat in 1933 to the annexation of Austria in 1938. The German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote the play over a period of only three weeks during his exile in Finland in 1941. The play is a an angry indictment of the nazis and the cowardice, the weakness and corruption of the German establishment. Brecht wrote his cutting satire in doggerel, lampooning the nazis and showing how an insignificant but ruthless small-time crook like Hitler was allowed to seize absolute power.

Having noted certain parallels with American gangsterdom, Brecht transposed the rise of the nazis in Germany to Chicago in the 1930’s, when the city was under the control of Al Capone and his gang. All the gangster characters, the groups and the events in the play have their nazi counterparts in the real world. Ernesto Roma is modelled on Ernst Röhm, Dogsborough is Paul von Hindenburg , Emanuele Giri is Hermann Göring, Giuseppe Givola is Joseph Goebbels, the fate of the town of Cicero is fashioned after the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria – , etc.

The thinly disguised nazi caricatures are even more ridiculed by the issue at stake: the trade in cauliflower – as absurd as it is inane. The cartel wanting to take control of the cauliflower trade, the Cauliflower Trust, is modelled on the Prussian Junkers, Germanys powerful, conservative landed nobility who helped Hitler to rise to power.

Brecht explained having written the The resistible rise of Arturo Ui by maintaining that “great political criminals should certainly be ridiculed, above all because they are not great political criminals, but perpetrators of great political crimes, which is an altogether different thing.”

As the Arturo Ui character, Hitler is cast as a small-time crook who is willing to go to any lengths to work his way up in the world. When the Cauliflower Trust, represented by the shrewdly operating Clark, start using Ui as their coercer in order to take full control of the trade, Ui leaps at the opportunity – extortion, violence, rape, murder: he stops at nothing. When Ui finds out that the influential, conservative politician Dogsborough has been taking bribes (a straight reference to the Osthilfeskandal (East aid scandal), which weakened the position of Germany’s President Paul von Hindenburg considerably), Ui endeavours to seize absolute power.

Brecht’s original text is full of stylistic elements typical of his epic theatre. The characters are ‘formally’ introduced to the audience and there are accompanying notes stating that texts are projected in between the scenes to explain the connections between the events in the play and those in Nazi Germany that they were modelled on.

The play also frequently refers to Shakespeare’s villains Richard III and Macbeth, reinforcing the notion of Ui representing absolute evil.

Brecht wrote the play for the American stage, but it was only first performed in English in 1961. In 1958, the play premiered in Germany, in Stuttgart, under the direction of Peter Palitzsch. From 1959 to 1980 it was performed by the Berliner Ensemble. Brecht himself died in 1956, never having seen the play in performance.

Heiner Müller’s legendary staging was first performed in 1995 by the Berliner Ensemble, starring Martin Wuttke, who has played the role with the ensemble ever since. Wuttke is one of the most famous German stage actors, who has also built up a successful film career landing major parts in movies such as Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Cloud Atlas by Tom Tykwer and the ‘Wachowski franchise’.

Heiner Müller was deeply influenced by Brecht. The German theatre academic and Müller scholar Theo Girshausen called Müller the true heir of Bertolt Brecht, because he did not imitate Brecht, but further developed Brecht’s socio-political and aesthetic principles and created a new form of political theatre, in which the linear narrative of Brecht’s theatre has been replaced by an associative montage theatre in which dreams and reality are mixed up. Müller himself has said: “Using Brecht without criticising him is tantamount to betrayal.” Müller did not care much for the clear and friendly Brecht, but all the more for what he called Brecht’s Gothic side, the angry Brecht writing dark verse in doggerel rhymes, as in The resistible rise of Arturo Ui. No wonder then that Müller staged it as the opening play of the Berliner Ensemble’s Brecht season during Müller’s first season as sole artistic director with the ensemble at Brecht’s former theatre at the Schiffbauerdamm. It would also be Müller’s last direction. The play premiered in June 1995. In December of that same year, Müller died of esophageal cancer.

Just as Brecht was, Müller was very critical about the role of Germany’s large industries in WWII. “All large German companies used slave labour from Auschwitz,” according to Müller. “And in other camps (…) The gas was not invented by the people who used it. German industry supplied it, knowing full well what they were providing it for. This was done by people who are now enjoying their pensions, or occupying high positions in German industry. However, most of the time one hears about the beasts in their SS uniforms, not about the beasts in the Boards of Directors.” Analogous to Brecht’s suggestion in The resistible rise of Arturo Ui that big business allowed the ‘feral dogs’ of nazism (i.e. Ui and his cronies) to seize power, Müller was convinced that German industry, and also the allied forces, allowed the nazis too long a leash so that they would kill off communism, but that “when the dog went wild, it had to die.” Müller reinforces this view in his staging by making Brecht’s satire harsher and darker than the original. The brass music that sounded in the earlier version of the Berliner Ensemble is replaced by Verdi, Mozart and Wagner; and by Liszt’s preludes, which were used by the nazis for their victory broadcasts on radio. Müller also skips the prologue of Brecht’s original and the explanatory texts between the scenes. All these changes lend the piece a grimmer and more sinister character. From the moment the slimy, shifty, whining and brown-nosing Arturo Ui enters the stage, the machinery of corruption starts turning as a well-oiled, cynical treadmill which will not stop.

Biographies

The Berliner Ensemble is one of the most important theatre companies in the German speaking world. The company was formed in 1949 in East-Berlin by the famous German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht and his wife, the actress Helen Weigel, after they had returned from exile in the United States. Until 1954, the ensemble played at Wolfgang Langhoff’s Deutsches Theater; that same year they moved into their current location, the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, where Brecht’s Dreigroschenoper had premiered in 1928.

Brecht did not write any new plays for the company, but gave young directors liker Benno Besson, Egon Monk and future artstic directors of the company Manfred Wekwerth and Peter Pallitzsch the opportunity to stage their versions of his existing plays. The first play that was performed by the Berliner Ensemble in 1949 was Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children, which he had written in 1939 and is still regarded as a highlight of 20th century theatre.

After Brecht’s death in 1956, his widow Helene Weigel took over. Three pieces which Brecht had written during his exile from Nazi Germany weren’t performed until after his death, including Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui ( The resistible rise of Arturo Ui).

After Weigel’s death in 1971, Ruth Berghaus was appointed director. She broadened the scope of the repertoire with plays by other European writers and also tried to stage more experimental theatre. The latter ambition, however, met with a lot of resistance from both the audience and the company members themselves. After Berghaus’ departure in 1977, Manfred Wekwerth took over.

After the German unification in 1989 the company went through a number of changes. In 1992 five directors were appointed to jointly lead the company. The experiment ended in disaster. The result was that in 1995, Heiner Müller was left as the only director. When Müller died that same year, Martin Wuttke was acting director for a year, after which Stephan Suschke took charge, leaving in 1998. However chaotic the leadership of the company was, the quality of the work did not suffer in the least. One of the plays premiering during that period was Heiner Müller’s staging of The resistible rise of Arturo Ui, which remains the most successful play in the company’s history.

Only after the refurbishment of the building in the late 1990’s did the company head into calmer waters under the direction of Claus Peymann. He is now leading the company with a mission to follow in Brecht’s footsteps and broaden his vision to create political theatre for the people.

 

Martin Wuttke is one of the most famous stage actors in Germany and also has a succesful film career. Recently he starred in the role of Hitler in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and in Cloud Atlas directed by Tom Tykwer and the ‘Wachowski franchise’. Wutttke is also famous in Germany for his portrayal of chief commissioner Andreas Keppler in the police series Tatort.Wuttke started his career on the stage in Bochum. Since then he has played with various major German theatre companies, including Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlijn, the Berliner Ensemble, the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Schillertheater Berlin, Deutsches Theater Berlin, Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, Theater des Westens in Berlijn, Thalia-Theater Hamburg, Staatstheater Stuttgart, Freie Volksbühne Berlin and Schauspiel Frankfurt.

After Heiner Müller’s death in 1995, Wuttke was acting director of the Berliner Ensemble in 1996. There he first played arguably his biggest role in his stage career, as Arturo Ui in Müller’s staging of Brecht’s The resistible rise of Arturo Ui. Wuttke still plays this role with the Berliner Ensemble. The number of performances has reached more than 400, and the play still attracts sold out audiences.

Another famous stage role of Wuttke’s is playing Valmont in Quartett, Heiner Müller’s staging of the story of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Wuttke has worked with the cream of German directors, including Heiner Müller, Frank Castorf, Christoph Schlingensief and Christoph Marthaler. Since 2009 Wuttke has been part of the actors ensemble of the Viennese Burgtheater. As well as being an actor, from 1995 Wuttke has also been directing. Recently he has directed with the Berliner Ensemble, the Münchner Kammerspiele and at the Volksbühne Berlin.

 

Heiner Müller (1929-1995) is regarded as one of the most important German playwrights of the twentieth century. He also worked as a director, poet, writer of prose, essayist and artistic director. For the greater part of his working life he lived in the GDR (East-Germany). In 1946 Müller joined the social democratic party SPD, which under pressure from the Soviet-Union merged with the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED, Social Unity Party Germany). He wrote literary reviews for cultural magazines and in 1954 he joined the Deutsche Schriftstellerverband (DSV, German Writers Association). During this period his first play, Zehn Tage, die die Welt erschütterten (Ten days that shook the world), premiered. His play Die Umsiedlerin (The Resettler Woman) (1961) was banned directly after its premiere, and Müller was ousted from the Writers Association, which he wasn't allowed to rejoin until 1988. It marked the beginning of a troublesome relationship between Müller and the socialist authorities; much of his work was first performed in West-Germany. From the late 1980's Müller also rose to prominence as a director. In 1990 he staged a full eight hour version of Hamlet at the Deutsche Theater in Berlin, in which he had integrated his own work Die Hamletmaschine from 1979. In 1984 Müller joined the Akademie der Künste der DDR and in 1986 he became a member of the Akademie der Künste West-Berlin. From 1990 until 1993 he was the last serving president of the East-German academy, when it merged with the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Müller was one of the public speakers at the large protest on Alexanderplatz on 4 November 1989, a week before the fall of the Wall. In 1990 the festival Experimenta in Frankfurt am Main was dedicated to him. Müller was awarded many prizes for his works, including the Heinrich-Mann-Preis in 1959, the Georg-Büchner-Preis in 1985, the Kleist-Preis in 1990 and the Europese Theaterpreis in 1991; in 1996 he was posthumously awarded the Theaterpreis Berlin.