Writer: Manfred Karge
Director: Tilly Branson
Reviewer: Nichola Daunton
Originally written before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Manfred Karge’s one-woman play Man to Man now has an added scene, performed here for the first time in the UK, which brings it fittingly up-to-date, just in time for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. First performed in the UK in 1987 by Tilda Swinton, in what turned out to be a career launching performance, Man to Man tells the tale of Ella Gericke, a German woman who takes on her husband’s identity after he dies, in order to protect herself from the economic depression and spiralling hyper-inflation of 1920s Germany. What is initially intended to be a temporary transition though, soon becomes a way of life, and Ella – now Max – struggles to suppress the woman she longs to be, while having to deal with the harsh realities of living in a male and increasingly militarized world.
Tricia Kelly gives an electrifying performance as Max Gericke, juxtaposing the braggadocio behaviour of the oppressively male world she finds herself in – all beer, schnapps and bawdiness – with her burning desire to bear a child and be a woman again. As the lines begin to blur, so do ideas of sexuality, gender and identity, and before she is aware of how much time has passed, it is clear that she will never be able to escape from her new rôle as the man of the house.
Veering dangerously between the past, present and future, Kelly’s performance is dark, disturbing and utterly captivating from beginning to end, as she bursts out of Eleanor Field’s small stage set and drunkenly chases the shadows of her past self. When the running battles of the 1930s between the Socialist and the National Socialists turn into Nazi rule, Ella soon realizes that there is no room left for moralizing and survival is all that matters. Taking refuge in the rôle of an SA prison guard in order to avoid the military medical that would otherwise reveal her secret, she falls deeper and deeper into a life from which she will never be able to escape.
A bleak play from beginning to end, Karge’s script, translated here by Anthony Vivis, is visceral and guttural, brilliantly portraying the hard and cold ideologies of Nazi Germany. Although hope should be offered by the thaw and the fall of the Wall by the play’s close, it is all too late for Ella. Stuck between her two identities, she is not able to fully inhabit one or the other, and remains trapped to the bitter end, in a world shaped by the harsh necessities of survival.
Runs until November 30th| Photo Mike Kwasniak