In The Trial of Ubu, Simon Stephens takes the grotesque and amoral megalomaniac dictator from Alfred Jarry’s proto-surrealist 1896 play Ubu Roi and places him before a twenty-first century international court of justice.
Well over 100 years after the seminal avant-garde work The Ubu King by Alfred Jarry, Simon Stephens presents a sequel to Jarry’s theatre play, written when he was 15 and first performed in 1888 as a puppet play. A defiant theatre play by a delinquent and possibly the founding text of modern experimental theatre, in the opening of Ubu’s Trial. Set in January 2010 at the International Criminal Court based in The Hague, it is day 436 of the trial of the dictator Ubu. Sitting before an International Court constituted by the UN, he is accused of Crimes against Humankind and other serious violations of International Humanitarian Law. In this trial, Ubu becomes a symbol of contemporary dictators and questions are raised about the ability of the law to deal with political crimes.
Simon Stephens’ virtuosic satire examines the often absurd legal wrangling present in the international justice system. The Trial of Ubu is a wild comedy that questions the assumptions of a Court as it struggles to deal with defendants who not only oppose the morality of the law, but exist in an entirely different moral dimension. Still, while there’s no denying the importance of Jarry’s revolt against naturalistic conventions, or the fact that his scatological nonsense language still holds a perverse fascination, the bludgeoning puerility may be enough to send you screaming for the exit, in search of something, anything grown-up to do: perhaps your tax return.
Exploring the central legitimacy and effectiveness of international law, Stephens asks how a civilised society can deal with the perpetrators of unspeakable crimes and where the legitimacy of any internationally convened court lies. Taking an ironic and intelligent view of international courts when reduced to pointless and convoluted legal altercations, this entertaining but unsettling theatre play asks important questions about moral justice versus justice and the futility of reasoned argument in the presence of a heinous wrongdoer.