MAN TO MAN Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre
Book by Manfred Karge
Translated and adapted for the stage by Alexandra Wood
Co-directors Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Writer Manfred Karge has brought a new perspective to the horrors of life in Nazi Germany for those hunted down by the regime, with many forced to take extreme measures in order to survive. This is the story of Ella Gericke, a young woman who takes on her dead husband’s job as a crane driver, together with his identity, in order to live. We witness her terror and the lengths she must go to in order not to be found out. Incredibly, she manages to maintain the deception for over forty years. At the core of the piece as the reason for Ella’s decision – Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, brought to the fore when Ella is forced to eat pork (forbidden by Jewish dietary laws) in order to avoid discovery.
This is a brand-new adaptation and production of an extraordinary one-woman play that premiered back in the 1980s when it won considerable acclaim. Offering as it does a searching and searing overview of Germany under the Third Reich, this rare cross-genre piece is not to be missed not only for this reason but for its exploration of identity through episodic scenes in Ella’s life.
Ella, played by Margaret Ann Bain, struggles to keep afloat in a bewildering male world of beer cellars and crude masculine humour, at the same time leading a false existence with the fear of discovery looming over her. Bain manages to pull off a balancing act, maintaining credibility as a man while retaining an underlying hint of a feminine sexuality at the core of Ella’s being and making the audience aware at all times of the loneliness of a life devoid of close contact with another human being – a life dependant on its memories. No mean feat, this, and coupled with her acrobatic skills – the physicality of the role requires some difficult and hair-raising moves – lifts Bain’s performance beyond the norm, placing her next in line to Tilda Swinton, who received rave reviews for playing the role when the play was premiered at the Segauspeilhaus Bocehum under its original title of Jacke wie Hose. A small caveat, and one that is easily rectified, is that Bain could slow down a tad in the opening sequences in which a strong accent makes for a lack of clarity at times. Nevertheless, an outstanding performance by a young up and coming performer and one well worth seeing.
Sparsely furnished it may be, but the set by Richard Kent makes a major contribution in its depiction of scenes such as the fall of the Berlin Wall – great input by video designer Andrzej Goulding -and, poignantly, the mirror image of Ella as a girl, as does Rick Fisher’s clever lighting.
Co-directors Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham are to be congratulated on bringing to the stage an extraordinary piece whose daring combination of prose and poetry, realism and imagination is in itself a considerable achievement.
Runs until March 27th
Photographic Credit Polly Thomas