sat 15/12/2018

Man to Man, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff | reviews, news & interviews

Man to Man, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Man to Man, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Margaret Ann Bain faultless in Manfred Karge's ageless and grim parable

Margaret Ann Bain: 'one of the most tireless and faultless performances a Welsh stage has seen in some time'PollyThomas

There can be few modern plays as testing for a female actor as Manfred Karge’s Man to Man. When Tilda Swinton took it on at the Royal Court in 1987 and brought to the many roles of this one woman show her androgynous intensity it was the performance that made her name. Here in Cardiff for the Wales Millennium Centre’s revival, Margaret Ann Bain gives one of the most tireless and faultless performances a Welsh stage has seen in some time; a breathless, kinetically poetic 70 minutes that is never anything less than entirely captivating.

The story of Ella Gericke, a working-class woman in Brandenburg who takes on the identity of her dead husband in order to at first retain his income, and then simply survive, is an ageless and grim parable told in purely theatrical terms. Language, space, light, time, character: all are fully understood – and played out – to perfection. Here we are at the very crossing point of fairy-tale and realism, where the spit and sawdust of the daily struggle of the underclass meets the jagged monochrome intensity of German Expressionism. The design work of Richard Kent, Andrzej Goulding (video) and Rick Fisher (lighting) is beautifully stylised, with suggestions of Robert Weine and FW Murnau, a Teutonic frost crawling and reaching across the backdrop of the threadbare apartment room in which the Imperial grey of the German century unfolds before us.

This is political theatre par excellence, delivered with grizzled lyricism

In the opening speech, Ella, in the guise of her husband Max, shouts out of her window at the layabout youths on the street corners, “Work will set you free”, and the iron mantra from the gates of Auschwitz hangs over the entire production just as it has done the German nation, just as it has done the whole of civilisation. It is a bold moment, just a few minutes in, and the danger in invoking this phrase is for the gravity to let up. But it does not. We are in a concrete dream world; the place we wish was make-believe, the apartment is Ella’s cell, a crushing symbol of the loneliness that is the price of her survival.

This is political theatre par excellence, delivered with grizzled lyricism. Alexandra Wood’s translation is a magnificent piece of work, the bedrock for the considerable talents involved to build upon.

Co-directors Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham have taken a serious subject, a heavyweight text, understood it fully, and held nothing back in the telling. This forms part of the Women and World Festival 2015, and the Wales Millennium Centre, the country’s flagship theatrical venue, has assembled a formidable creative team for it. They have not been let down. If this is a statement of intent from new Artistic Director Graeme Farrow, it is one that is bold, enlivening and could not be more welcome. Sure, the audience has to do some work, understand poetry and maybe a little Brecht, perhaps invest in political allegory; but if this is a new direction for serious theatre in Wales then it should be fully applauded.

 

Here we are at the very crossing point of fairy-tale and realism, where the spit and sawdust of the daily struggle of the underclass meets the jagged monochrome intensity of German Expressionism

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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