Writer: Manfred Karge
Translator: Alexandra Wood
Directors: Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham
Reviewer: Daryl Holden
Not just an urban legend, the story of Man to Man is based on the real-life ordeal that Ella Gericke went through after the death of her husband in 1930’s Germany and she assumed his identity.
Tackling issues not just limited to the rise and fall of the Nazi regime, as well as the rise and fall of the Berlin wall, Man to Man is just as much about history as it is providing an honest view of female psychology and a social commentary on how little the view of women in society has changed since these events.
Man to Man isn’t just a piece of conventional storytelling, and instead, employs the use of physical theatre to help further the story. The company’s ties to Frantic Assembly aren’t hard to miss, and while overall the physical text plays a huge role in keeping the audience engaged, it doesn’t feel like it was used enough and taken to great enough lengths to see it as anything other than some ideas that have been borrowed from Frantic Assembly themselves.
Unfortunately, the script for the piece doesn’t help much either. The show doesn’t start with a bang, nor does it end with one. It simply fizzles in and out of existence, leaving you only with what occurred in the middle to keep you satisfied. Even though the middle is where the piece is at its best, it’s a huge shame that it takes around fifteen minutes to hit this stride before you can truly become invested. However, while it isn’t necessarily the script itself that can make or break this piece, the actor delivering it certainly can.
Enter Maggie Bain… Delivering an electric performance from the get-go, Bain offers up a fascinating array of hand crafted, intricately designed characters, with so many different traits, speech patterns and a bewildering sense of physicality, that if it isn’t the sheer skill of the actor that amazes you, her memory will instead. In what truly is a demanding piece, Bain operates with fluidity and comfort on a level that is rarely seen on stage. Although this is a one-woman show, you never get the feeling that Bain is alone, as she has all of her different personalities to keep her company.
Aiding Bain in her efforts are an ingenious and wonderfully designed set that transforms as needs must throughout the performance from a one bed flat, to a wide-open field and to a jail cell in a set of movements that make you feel ignorant for not having seen the space as those scenarios in the first place. Alongside this comes an offering of superb lighting effects as well as an ingenious bit of projection that, when combined, help to further Ella’s story when the words simply can’t do it justice, even offering up some of the most emotional moments in the show.
Man to Man feels like it’s trying to accomplish too much in its run-time. The piece attempts to fuse fiction with real-life events, offers glimpses at the issues of both yesterday and today, and looks at how physicality and storytelling work together. Doing all of this while never truly nailing down any individual aspect leaves you wondering if perhaps the script is too ambitious. The saving grace of the piece, however, comes in what we can actually, physically see on stage. A combination of talent in the departments of lighting, sound, projection, design and most importantly, acting, help portray a piece that can still get their message across to its audience, even when the written text itself cannot.
Runs until 28 October 2017 | Image: Contributed