Man to Man, Traverse, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Wales Millennium Centre
Manfred Karge (writer), Alexandra Wood (translator), Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham (directors), Richard Kent (design), Rick Fisher (lighting design), Mike Walker (sound design), Andrzej Goulding (video design), Matthew Scott (music)
Maggie Bain
Running time

Gender fluidity is very much a topical issue today. People who feel trapped in bodies of the wrong gender now have choices at their disposal to allow a different life. But while the choices available are new, the desire to change is not. Women have lived secret lives as men for many reasons like economy, education, survival, and such women appear in fiction such as George Moore’s novella that became the heart- breaking film Albert Nobbs; Isaac Singer’s short story that became the film Yentl or Jackie Kay’s novel Trumpet inspired by the transgender life of jazz musician Billy Tipton.

East German writer Manfred Karge’s 1982 play Jacke wie Hose, translated as Man to Man, and performed in 1987 at the Traverse memorably starring Tilda Swinton, is also based on the true story of such a woman.

Set in 1930s Germany, the real woman, who lived undetected as a man for 12 years, becomes a young 19 -year- old Ella who marries crane driver Max Gericke. When he becomes ill and dies of cancer, the young widow survives by donning her husband’s trousers, turning up his jacket collar, pulling his cap over her face and going out to drive his crane. For nearly 50 years this lie is lived by Ella through the changing face of Germany from the Nazi regime to peacetime division to re-unification. Throughout she is mired in a masculine world she has to make her own to live.

Maggie Bain brings a muscular and magical interpretation in this radical new version of the one woman play that’s touring from Wales Millennium Centre. Her powerful performance, bursting with physicality, is full of small miracles of deception as she hangs from walls and windows with no apparent move to attach herself and just how does that blood streak appear on her forehead? Her creation of the confinement of a cell by moulding herself around a window frame is a feat to behold. Bain uses a range of voices for the incidental characters, choosing a Scottish one as Max and English when Ella.

Rick Fisher’s lighting makes prison bars against the walls of Richard Kent’s striking stark set of a bricked triangular room that become backdrop for some impressive shadow puppetry and graphics from Andrzej Goulding, so impressive and visually distracting that they are in danger of overwhelming the narrative.

Man to Man is marketed as a “modern fairy tale inspired by the traditions of German storytelling…” and these elements come across strongly with Snow White references abounding but it is the determined, shape shifting skills of this working- class woman, who survived against the odds across decades in forever changing environments that remained forever alien to her, that is its real core.

11 - 14 October at 7.30pm with matinee at 2.30pm on 14th age recommend 14 +