Ella (Margaret Ann Bain) has lived a double life. She has spent her time posing both as herself and her dead husband Max in order to avoid the Nazi regime in 1930s Germany. Naïve and too young to have loved and lost, she buries herself with her husband and faces all kinds of trials trying literally to step into his shoes. Eventually she spends so much time as him that she forgets herself and is caught unawares when sudden flashbacks hit her consciousness and threaten her fragile disguise.
As a one woman show, Bain has quite a job on her shoulders. But director Bruce Guthrie has picked well here; Bain is harrowing, passionate and incredibly realistic. There are a couple of moments where she could have been more intense, but on the whole she deserves credit for prolonging such a fragmented emotional state throughout. Indeed when remembering moments from her past, there are a number of times where she has to play multiple roles in one sequence – the overall feeling is one of androgyny as the transition between different characters is made with little effort. One minute Ella (Bain) is fondly recalling a moment of love between herself and her husband; the next she is a bitter, repressed male pensioner looking back on his eventful life.
The whole concept of duality is picked up really well in the production. Andrzej Goulding and Rick Fisher’s video and lighting designs create female shadows on the set during Bain’s male monologues, highlighting the constant internal struggle the character must be reminded of daily. The video projections on the backdrop are all really effective in punctuating the storyline, from evoking images of Hitler’s rise to power to the chaos of World War Two and finally to the destruction of the Berlin wall all those years later. The whole of Richard Kent’s set in fact is very clever. Bleak walls hide a number of nooks and crannies that Bain uses in her storytelling; Ella’s descent into madness and senility is all the more effective when the actor is sat on a chair halfway up one of the walls.
The most remarkable thing of all after this however is that the whole play is based on a true story, which shows the levels of desperation that people can reach when their very existence and mental stability is threatened.
Man to Man plays at the Underbelly Potterrow (venue 358) until August 31 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Fringe website.