Sunday, 16 November 2014

Theatre review: Man to Man

Manfred Karge's monologue Man to Man, translated by Anthony Vivis, sees a young couple marry in Germany a little before Hitler's rise to power. The marriage lasts barely over a year before Max dies of cancer. From a combination of needing the income, and wanting to keep her husband alive in some way, his widow (Tricia Kelly) dresses as a man and takes on Max's identity, and his job operating a crane. The deception seems to fool everyone, even getting him a young female admirer, but with war on the horizon Max has a dilemma: War means conscription for a young man, but if she returns to her former identity as Ella, she'll appear vulnerable at a time when plenty of men will be willing to take advantage. Man to Man follows Germany's history throughout World War II, the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, through the eyes of a person whose identity - for most of that time at least - is male.

Kelly is very impressive in her solo performance, filling the room without showboating. We first meet Max as an old man getting drunk in front of the TV, and Kelly convincingly takes us through the stages that led to this identity.

Karge's verse play I'm not as sure about. Though keeping the male persona most of his life, Max does occasionally become a woman again when sexual advantage calls for it. There's interesting moments when we seem to be exploring what this does to Max's mental state, and the way Max variously describes himself as male or female, or as a character in the third person, has promise. But between this and the alternative history of post-War Germany being told in the comparatively short piece, neither gets the chance to fully develop, and at times the play struggled to keep my interest. The last Karge play I saw was The Conquest of the South Pole, and while not as tedious as that this does share its flaw of a good cast unable to disguise a play with surprisingly little to say in the end, and no interesting way to say it.

Man to Man by Manfred Karge in a version by Anthony Vivis is booking until the 30th of November at Park Theatre 90.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

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