Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 23rd March, 2016
The iconic British film was based on the novel Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis. This production by Northern Stage returns to that source material but keeps the film’s title – for publicity reasons, I imagine.
Adapted by Torben Betts, this is a story of revenge. Jack Carter, old school gangster, returns to his North-East home for his brother’s funeral. While there, he investigates what happened and determines to make those who put Frank in a box pay. He winkles out the bad guys and lets them have it. That’s about the size of it. It’s almost Jacobean, almost Greek tragedy – Jack’s lust for vengeance brings about his own destruction.
As the anti-hero, Kevin Wathen is utterly convincing, delivering the script’s more lyrical, beat-poetic passages as well as the harsh, four-letter dialogue, with menace and aggression.
In fact, this is the most sweary script you will hear outside of Berkoff. If a word doesn’t begin with F, it begins with C, in a relentless barrage of hard language. It establishes the milieu as a rough, tough world and, at times, it’s also funny. Like being hit over the head with a Viz magazine.
Ever-present is Jack’s dead brother, Frank (Martin Douglas) – someone for our narrator to talk to, rather than addressing us directly. We are very much in Carter’s mind. Douglas is also a mean drummer, underscoring the action in a way that brings to mind recent film Birdman – as well as evoking the jazz of the period.
Amy Cameron is excellent as Jack’s orphaned niece Doreen – able to give as good as she gets verbally, but also vulnerable and afraid. Victoria Elliott is also good as tart-with-no-heart Margaret and female gangster Glenda – unrecognisable in a change of wig. It is Michael Hodgson’s characterisations that distinguish his mob boss Kinnear and Irish heavy Con. This latter has a terrifying scene with young Doreen – the play is very much a slow-burner but moments of tension arise and are expertly handled by director Lorne Campbell.
I also liked Donald McBride’s comically sweary toff, Brumby, and the set (by 59 Productions Limited) evokes brutalised post-war Britain: a landscape of mounds of broken red bricks, viewed through the arch of a viaduct or railway bridge. It is over this rubble that the characters pick their way, striving to be king of the tip.
It’s an uncomfortable watch and far from a good advertisement for humanity, and it runs a little longer than perhaps it needs to. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it as such, but it’s so stylish and well-executed (loved the shadows!), I can’t help but admire the production values and the performances.
Get Carter assaults the ears and leaves a nasty taste – a brutal tale of brutal folk in a brutal place.