• Physical Theatre
  • By Manfred Karge
  • Directed by Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham
  • Performed by Maggie Bain
  • Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham
  • 26th-30th September 2017. Touring until 11th November
  • Reviewed by Katie Webster
  • 27 September 2017
Man to Man
4.0Reviewer's Rating

Man to Man is a one woman show which tells the life story of Ella Gericke – a woman who lived with her husband until his death. Based on a gripping true story, this performance carries its audience through the volatile and visceral setting that is 20th century Germany, where Gericke’s only option is to adopt her husband’s identity in order to survive. Stunning visuals and a flawless performance by Maggie Bain makes this play a truly captivating watch.

The audience is greeted by a deceptively simple set design, however, the space is transformed throughout the play to highlight the harmonious fluidity Bain executes through the style of movement. Special mention must be given to Rick Fisher for his astounding lighting designs which captivate from the get-go. The genius use of projection and shadow fits perfectly with the action on stage, and continues to enhance Bain’s swift and effortless character changes. Rarely have I seen a production where the stage has been managed with such precision and ease, so much so it is easy to completely commit to the space and lose yourself in the surroundings.

Bain’s performance is the perfect balance between bold and delicate. She transforms with confidence and grace between multiple characters, sometimes in very quick succession, all of which are of a high level of believability. Even the slightest gesture is a clear signifier, and suddenly we see someone new immerge before of us. Matched with the adaptability of the stage, these two elements of the performance marry together to create a beautifully fluid, yet politically charged, piece. While Bain executes her skill to a high level, it is easy to lose yourself in the design aesthetic and forget the poignant message unfolding before you. Such elements, such as a chair being mounted to the wall or the bed frame being dramatically flipped to its side seemed to lack relevance in relation to the physicality and language, however impressive these choreographies are.

While this play may be absurdist to the eye, there are incredibly gentle moments of realism and subtlety also, allowing the character of Gericke to build a relationship with her audience, as well as stun with impressive, yet metaphorical movements which are so familiar to the absurdist style. At times, the political references seem heavy and leaden, however these add to the overall social context of Nazi Germany and highlight the physical and mental struggle unfolding before you.

This performance is sharp, quick, colourful and well-crafted, while it is simultaneously able to portray an interesting plot line through the original text itself.  In spite of the sometimes heavy-handed writing style, a powerful and striking performance has been produced to a high standard.

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