MAN TO MAN at Birmingham Rep

It is a well-established fact that war shows humanity at its worst. While we can see countries banding together to fight for what it right, we can also see the shameful waste of human life through numerous atrocities that have left their mark. Shown as numbers and figures, we often become desensitised and ignore the way that individual events can bring incomprehensible fear, pain, and despair to families. It is therefore important for plays such as Manfred Karge’s Man To Man to remind us of the personal impact of war.

The 1982 play is a one-woman show that focuses on the life of Ella Gericke as she is forced to take on the identity of her dead husband, Max. Living this lie becomes harder as she must simultaneously face the various conflicts of the 20th Century. Through her internal dichotomy between her identities, and her fight to survive, we see how the death of her husband has changed Ella forever.

Maggie Bain has previously performed this play in 2015, and is now reprising the role. The original run garnered excellent reviews from many publications, so it is hardly surprising that the new tour is doing the same – and rightly so. She brings an energy to every character that allows the blend of comedy and tragedy in Ella’s world to come to life. Moving from optimism to pessimism, and constantly switching between characters, Bain makes every moment distinct. I can say without a doubt that Karge’s intelligent and engaging script has been placed in the right hands.

What furthers this production is the thoughtful direction from Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham. Working together, these directors have made use of every prop and every inch of the stage, which makes the set resemble an enormous Chekhov’s gun. In terms of movement there are stark stylistic similarities to Graham’s phenomenal direction of Things I Know To Be True in 2016. These choices ensure that each scene is alive and inventive, and suits the production well.

Bringing more character to the set is the lighting and the projection. These elements changed the set drastically, conveying different environments, as well as presenting visual metaphors and moments that Bain could not show on her own. At no point did this feel distracting, and it enhanced numerous scenes. This smart integration of visual effects is superb, and is something that, when done well, can enhance the theatrical experience to no end.

Tackling Karge’s play is no mean feat, and this production is an excellent example of how to make text like this work. This creative ensemble has an incredible amount of talent, and together they have produced something truly memorable: a theatrical event not to be missed. Whether they choose to work together on another project or not, I look forward to seeing the future work of all involved.     ★★★★★    Jeremy Ulster    28th September 2107


Photo by Polly Thomas