Man to Man - theatre review

Tricia Kelly stuns in this intriguing one woman show, set against the turbulent background of 20th Century Germany.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” - Kurt Vonnegut, 1966

In this interesting solo piece by Manfred Karge we meet Max Gericke, who tells us of his journey through sixty years of Germany's torrid history. Grasping bones, clutching at shadows and swilling schnapps and beer, Max drunkenly veers from the economic woes of the twenties, to the horrors of Nazi Germany, right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall – indeed this section was recently added by the author, especially pertinent 25 years on.

But all is not as it seems. The real Max Gericke actually died many years earlier, at which point his widow Ella makes the decision to take on his identity and become the man himself. Surrounded by a crumbling and, at times, terrifying Germany, Ella becomes Max in order to save herself from the difficult world around her. As time passes, Ella’s old life and her femininity die away, as Max Gericke doggedly moves through life, his flaming masculinity evident for all to see. His appetite for survival is all consuming...

Max is played by the talented Tricia Kelly and she shows great transformational skill in this piece. Kelly is fearless in her creation of the masculine Max. At times, it is pure grotesque magic to watch her switch from Gericke's sweaty, pot-bellied man to the perfectly performed femininity of her past, as Ella yearns for the child that never was.

Some interesting lighting from Sarah McColgan which helps take us from the dingy gloom of Gericke's apartment, to the cabaret clubs of Berlin, to the cold prisons of Nazi Germany - simple but incredibly effective. There is also lovely design from Eleanor Field too, with Max suitably dishevelled and his ‘home’ necessarily dismal and plain.

This was the play that shot Tilda Swinton to fame in 1987, and one can easily see why. An intensive energy is needed, especially as the text is fairly dense in places, and includes several rhyming dream-like and fantasy sequences. Perhaps it is in the text where the piece suffers a little, although director Tilly Branson does a god job of ensuring there is enough activity from Kelly that we remain engaged throughout. Indeed, the piece leaves you feeling somewhat emotionally exhausted. At the coming down of the Wall, as Germany is finally united, Max Gericke is still trapped behind his own walls – neither man, nor woman. A fascinating piece with some interesting ideas on the nature of gender and performativity, all set against one of most intriguing periods of human history.

Man to Man by Manfred Karge
Translated by Anthony Vivis
London
Park Theatre
4th-30th November 2014
15:15 matinee / 19:45 evening
75 - 80 minutes with no interval

Cast
Max Gericke - Tricia Kelly

Creatives
Director - Tilly Branson
Set & Costume Designer - Eleanor Field
Lighting Designer - Sarah McColgan
Sound Designer - John Chambers
Casting Director - McShane Jenkins Casting
Stage Manager - Kelly Selvester
Producer - Danielle Tarento

(c) Carly Halse, reviewed on 6th November 2014

Author's review: 
4