Man to Man

Manfred Karge’s Man to Man is described as a modern fairy tale that follows the life of Ella, a woman who disguises herself as her dead husband in order to survive under Nazi and Communist rule. This forgotten gem is revived by Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham from Frantic Assembly with a tour-de-force performance by Margaret Ann Bain.

Karge’s script certainly is a knotty one and continuously challenges the audience with its debates about politics and ethics, as well as its structural and tonal shifts.

Karge’s script certainly is a knotty one and continuously challenges the audience with its debates about politics and ethics, as well as its structural and tonal shifts. Ella isn’t easily categorised; by turns she’s a vile accomplice to Nazi atrocities and then simply a desperate survivor who will do anything to keep her head above water. Margaret Ann Bain delivers a masterclass in technical skill, effortlessly conjuring characters and switching from jocular stories about Nazi rule to wistful dreaming about seeing her dead husband again.

Karge’s work has clearly been influenced by Brecht and so demands a more demonstrative acting style in order for the piece to work, which means we can appreciate the technical skill, storytelling and consider all the political questions at hand, but we never feel completely in the moment with Ella. Being the survivor that she is, she always keeps us at arm’s length.

Graham’s experience with physical theatre group Frantic Assembly is evident in this production: every theatrical trick is deployed to tell the story in the most imaginative way possible. Lighting, sound, projection, a set filled with hidden compartments and a whirlwind of physical theatre (no part of the stage is left unused) mean we’re taken on a theatrical journey from start to finish. But I must admit there were times when I wished for a few moments of unfussy stillness to let Bain talk to us on the same level.

Though I was left cold on a personal level due to the lack of connection or understanding with Ella, Man to Man is a very clever and tightly choreographed production that shows off the virtuosic talents of everyone involved.

Reviews by Liam Rees

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★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Wales Millennium Centre's Man to Man. Compromising her identity for survival, Ella is plunged into a masculine world of beer and war; an existence dominated by fear of discovery and the changing face of authority in 20th-century Germany.