were a lot of expectation around this new Wales Millennium Centre production of
Manfred Karge’s one-woman play,
there’s no doubt Guthrie and Gorham ensure we always have something to look at.
Bain plays Ella Gericke, who is forced by financial necessity in 1930s Germany to take on the identity—and, more importantly, the job—of her dead crane-operator husband Max. Bain’s physically impressive as she switches from gentle, graceful Ella to a necessarily more wiry Max and to the other people in the story, her Scottish accent deliberately strongest when playing the workers in the pub that she can’t—as a man—avoid. She roams the near-empty stage, now an old man living on pension and beer; such a contrast to when remembering the princess fairytales of her childhood.
Richard Ken’s set is large, though significantly empty except for a chair, a metal-framed bed and mattress. Just like Ella as Max, though, appearances are deceptive; the seemingly dull walls become fragile screens on which are projected Rick Fisher’s emotive lighting and Andrzej Goulding’s beguiling projections. Meantime Mike Walker’s soundscapes, be they muffled chatter or the distant thump of heavy artillery, add depth to the atmosphere. Surprisingly, the set itself is strong enough to support Bain as she clambers up and around during the action; there’s no doubt Guthrie and Gorham ensure we always have something to look at.
Yet there’s a sense this visually impressive staging is nothing more than theatrical jazz-hands intended to distract us from an examination of gender identity which, while presumably radical in 1987, already now feels somewhat dated and all-too male-focused. Perhaps, in the end, it might have been better simply to trust Bain as a performer to carry the drama without the need for the likes of a digitally crumbling Berlin Wall in reverse.