Tag Archives: Northern Stage

Acts of Violence


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.

get carter

Kevin Wathen (Photo: Topher McGrillis)

The Madness of War


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 20th May, 2014


Joseph Heller’s story has appeared as a novel and as a film. This stage adaptation encapsulates the feel of both of those while at the same time being an effective piece of theatre in its own right. We follow the experiences of Yossarian, an everyman caught up both in a war and the bonkers bureaucracy of the men in charge. Philip Arditti plays it sardonically for the most part, until the absurdity of the situation pushes Yossarian to the limit. Arditti is the lone sane voice in this mad world and when he tries, literally, to divest himself of the craziness around him, as a human being laid bare, the rules and regulations of this crazy society won’t let him be.

Jon Bausor’s corrugated iron set is dominated by a bisected aeroplane in and around which the action takes place. Scott Twynholm’s sound design helps to keep us on edge. We flit from office to brothel to war zone and the actors elide from character to character by swapping hats or spectacles. The transitions are slick; scenes blend and jar, as though we are in Yossarian’s consciousness. Director Rachel Chavkin lays the craziness bare, keeping the action focussed and not overburdened with gimmicks and ‘cleverness’. An example of what works really well is when soldiers start dancing in place, symbolising their adherence to rules of behaviour, their subjugation to someone else’s tune.

Supporting the excellent Arditti is a strong ensemble, each member of which doubles up on roles. Very funny is David Webber’s Major Major who would rather defenestrate himself than receive visitors in his office; Michael Hodgson’s Colonel Cathcart is a jobsworth on a monstrous scale; Christopher Price’s Milo Minderbinder is the capitalist on the make, exploiting the war for personal profit. Heller’s work is remarkably relevant outside of the context of war!

The absurdity of bureaucracy and the horrors of war intermingle to create a very funny, sometimes shocking, always engaging night at the theatre. It perhaps makes all its points well before the running time elapses but you don’t really mind numbness in the bum when your mind is both tickled and dismayed by Northern Stage’s high quality production.


Philip Arditti (Photo: Topher McGrillis)