man to man

Man to Man

Birmingham Rep Studio


Writer Manfred Karge has an extraordinary background. After being invited to join the Berliner Ensemble in the 1960s, he has collaborated and created political and socially-charged productions ever since.

The first showing of Man to Man was in 1982 in Germany. Today, in a production directed by Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham, comes a modern rebirth of the Brechtian style production from the Wales Millennium Centre.

In a translation by Alexandra Wood, the one-woman show which is excellently performed by Maggie Bain is the story of a woman, who having lost her husband to cancer in the early stages of their marriage, finds herself struggling to survive life alone. The only way to live as a widower is to take on her now dead husband’s persona and live and work in his guise for the sake of her own life.

The idea of the Brechtian ‘working class theatre’ is completely prevalent in Karge’s production and directors Guthrie’s and Graham do well to highlight the blue-collar experience in the time of 1930’s Germany.

In this production, the importance of work being the ultimate lifeline is the residing theme. Karge explores the undoubting lengths of merely existing, even if that means becoming the face of a deceased husband.

Bain effortlessly switches from a natural Scottish lilt when she plays male characters and then changes with ease into a delicate and soft English accent when she is female. Guthrie and Graham’s continuing concept is strikingly apparent to show the struggle of sheer survival.

There is a striking contrast between the natural state of being male and female. Although the woman keeps up the persona of her husband over a number of decades, there is a constant internal struggle as she is desperate for the female persona to burst out all the while acting as close to a man as possible around other male comrades. It is a wonderful example of the extreme depths of life and the natural determination of the mind.

Maggie Bain holds the entire production in her perfectly capable hands. She executes Karge’s political and emotional script with an endearing focus and shows us the remarkable journey of the character, which is based on truth.

Bain has amazing physicality and gives a Brechtian flair to Karge’s original style. She is utterly convincing as both a man and woman and the entire play is enticing because of her sheer brilliance as a performer. Bain is a Learn and Train Practitioner with the renowned physical theatre company Frantic Assembly and this is reflected within her precise on-stage skills.

Her actions show puppeteer qualities, especially as she recalls stories when the woman’s husband was alive. She uses every inch of the impressive set to make her body a fluid companion with the inanimate objects around her. Bain creates impressive shapes to propel herself from the ground, to the roof and the walls which inject a new dynamic to the engaging story. Her intricate interpretation of the script is phenomenal to observe and it is the perfect balance that captures the audience on an emotional level while all the while is completely focused on delivering the political tale of Karge’s script.

Richard Kent’s outstanding design makes this production truly spectacular. The set envelops Bain in a cold and chilling room of grey. There is a fantastic element of technical projection that ignites our imagination and is a chilling look into the harsh world of the realities of life at the time. There are beautiful moving images that accompany Bain’s performance that give the story a creative and stylistic edge..

With Karge’s fascinating history and a truly inspiring story, Man to Man is definitely one to see. Bain is a wonderful performer and Guthrie and Graham’s stylistic concept is a modern take on Brecht’s original style. To 30-09-17

Elizabeth Halpin


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