Writer: Torben Betts
Adapted from: Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis
Director: Lorne Campbell
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
To most people Get Carter calls to mind violent scenes in iconic settings, whether multi-storey car park or industrial wasteland by the Tyne. However, Torben Betts and Lorne Campbell, while keeping the title and location of the film, have based Northern Stage’s adaptation more on the novel that inspired the film, Ted Lewis’ Jack’s Return Home. The plot is very similar, but the story is much more internalised: on stage it is more feasible to penetrate the mind of the protagonist than to wheel on a giant crane! The result is that the violence takes a while to ignite, but, in a stunning second half, is all the more shocking when it does.
In the programme, there are several references to the writer and director working together to create this version – and that is evident in performance, with the superb set by 59 Productions Ltd equally a part of the process. The story is of London gangster Jack Carter returning to his native Newcastle for the funeral of his brother Frank, finding his suspicions of foul play in the death more than justified and embarking on a violent pursuit as hunter and quarry.
Frank was a jazz drummer and a key decision in adaptation and setting is to position him downstage, a substantial ghostly presence (Martin Douglas), behind his drums, listening unmoving to Jack’s internal monologue addressed to him, underscoring the drama with compelling rhythmic patterns, moving closer to Jack and the action in times of tension.
As for the rest of the setting, the coffin is there and a few basic practical items, while a screen projects looming shadows of the action, and a massive brick-pile provides visual impact and practical danger. Lighting (Kristina Hjelm) and sound (James Frewer) ratchet up the tension with sudden changes, with the telephone link to London and Carter’s gang boss screeching out further threats to his life.
Kevin Wathen as Jack is careful not to overdo the histrionics too early. From the start he is coldly menacing with his single-minded need to control: we remember the silhouette, massive and threatening, projected before he enters. Perhaps Wathen could bring out more strongly Carter’s self-alienation, his need to escape from who and what he is, but this is a convincing and well-judged performance, with a powerful desperation as Carter loses control over himself and the situation.
Michael Hodgson’s doubling of casino owner/slot machine magnate Kinnear and hired killer Con is outstanding. His urbane, my-hands-are-clean gangster is smoothly convincing and, as the Irish hitman, he gives a wonderful bravura performance full of tortured black comedy and an awareness of the torments of Hell. Donald McBride and Victoria Elliott also double to great effect as characters on both sides of the tracks economically and socially, but equally without a moral compass, and McBride slips in a nice comic turn as a frustrated poker player at Kinnear’s casino. Benjamin Cawley is effectively ambiguous as Jack’s former associate who now claims to have reformed and found respectability. As Doreen, Frank’s daughter, Amy Cameron finds what shreds of sympathy the audience can have for any character in this bleakly gripping tale.
Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed