Tag Archives: Matthew Scott

One Man Woman

MAN TO MAN

The Studio, Birmingham REP, Wednesday 27th September, 2017

 

This production from the Wales Millennium Centre is a new translation of Manfred Karge’s 1982 piece – although it could have been written much earlier in the last century.  There are dark shades of Kafka here in the dehumanisation of man in the service of industrialisation, echoes of Brecht and especially Beckett in the execution.  I am also reminded of Berkoff’s reworking of Metamorphosis, when our protagonist literally goes up the wall…

At the root of the fractured narrative is the story of a widow who adopts her dead husband’s identity so she can take over his job as a crane driver.  This means she has to change her behaviour to fit in and become part of the blokey circle of his workmates.  Because a woman shouldn’t be doing man’s work, of course.  I’d like to think the world – especially the world of work has moved on a little since 1982.  But cross-dressing is a classic trope in drama and always has been, giving rise to all sorts of complications and talking points.  Here, it’s Nazi Germany where many had to pretend to be other than they were in order to survive. The stakes are high for our lady in trousers.

Maggie Bain is the sole performer, taking us through a blend of story, anecdote and memory, playing all the parts in a highly physicalised manner.  She is a compelling presence and is supported by some excellent tech work: projections illustrate the fantasy moments; atmospheric lighting slashes across the scene through wooden slats; distortions and echoes in the sound augment the mood; and above all, in my view, the original music by Matthew Scott adds a nursery rhyme/creepy feel to proceedings.

Directors Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham pull out all the stops to bring life and colour to the grey, monochromatic world.  Surreal surprises abound: for example, Bain climbs into a suitcase and then comes in through the door.  Richard Kent’s sharply angled, expressionistic set complements the early 20th century vibe.  Dark circles ring Bain’s eyes, like a Buster Keaton figure or, given the expressionistic flavour, Claude Rains.

On the whole, I have to say I enjoyed the form of this piece rather than the content, due in no small part to Maggie Bain’s magnetic and skilful performance, using her voice and body to such a plastic extent, you expect the other characters to join her on stage at any given moment.  In the end, it’s a play of moments rather than moment.  It’s dark stuff: David Lynch meets Samuel Beckett.  Spellbinding rather than enlightening, it works on the imagination rather than the intellect.

man to man

Going up in the world, Maggie Bain (Photo: Polly Thomas)


More Rabbit Than Sainsburys

HARVEY

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 10th February, 2015

Mary Chase’s 1944 play is better known for the James Stewart film version – this revival reveals a sharper script from a female playwright, that rare beast (especially in those days).

It tells the story of a widow and her daughter who live with their brother and uncle respectively, one Elwood P Dowd. The man causes them no end of social embarrassment because of his best friend, the eponymous Harvey. The problem is Harvey is a (to us) invisible white rabbit over six feet tall. The widow tries to get her brother committed to a sanatorium so that the house will become hers – and a slew of comic incidents ensues, involving mistaken identity and some farcical running around.

The upshot is a delightful, charming and very funny evening, expertly played by a company with faultless comic timing.

Maureen Lipman is dream casting as the widow Veta, conveying her stress-induced dottiness along with some beautifully nuanced physical comedy. As disgruntled daughter and proto-teenager Myrtle Mae, Ingrid Oliver brings humour and a touch of Forties chic. There is a host of strong character actors: Amanda Boxer makes an impression as Miss Chauvenet, and Linal Haft makes the most of his cameo as an embittered cab driver. In the ‘meatier’ roles, Youssef Kerkour is a hoot as hired muscle Wilson: an imposing presence, Kerkour uses his physicality to contrast with his character’s softer side.

The excellent David Bamber’s Dr Chumley works himself up into a froth in hilarious scenes, sustaining this heightened delivery and displaying a nice line in double takes, while Jack Hawkins and Sally Scott play doctor-and-nurse and add to the confusion attractively.

James Dreyfus in the James Stewart role of Elwood lends his characterisation a laid-back, camp manner and it works like a charm. His offhand gestures to his unseen friend help us to ‘see’ the rabbit. Elwood is sweet, open-hearted and generous – when it is revealed that Dr Chumley’s cure will suppress not only his hallucinations but his good nature, making Elwood just like a normal human being (“and you know what bastards they are”) it is decided that a giant rabbit is not such a bad thing to have around the house after all. The most important thing is to be kind, the play reminds us.

PeterMcKintosh’s substantial yet revolving set grounds the action in its own reality, lending credibility to the settings so that Elwood and Harvey seem more at odds with this ‘normality’.   Matthew Scott’s lovely, wistful music gives the transitions a bittersweet feel, perhaps lamenting that the world isn’t like the play but we wish it was; to have Elwoods and Harveys around would make the world a better place.

Director Lindsay Posner keeps things ticking along at a sometimes gentle pace – some moments could do with a bit more intensity to accentuate the farcical aspects, but the cast are allowed to have their head and, above all, Chase’s sparkling script is revealed as an overlooked jewel of a comedy. A feel-good piece that tickles the imagination as much as the funny bone.

"You got an ology?"  Maureen Lipman  (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

“You got an ology?” Maureen Lipman (Photo: Manuel Harlan)