Perhaps the most startling revelation about Manfred Karge’s one woman show, Man to Man, is that it is a true story.
It’s pre-war Germany and Ella Gericke is hounded by genuine misfortune. Not only is she living in Germany in the midst of the great depression, her dalliances with the opposite gender end in tragedy. The men she love disappear and die. These ill-fated romances lead Ella to speciously believe she will never marry, until she meets Max Gerricke. Unfortunately for Ella, Max too follows in her previous lovers’ damned path.
Ella is left in a terrible position. In a time where feminism is in its infancy she is a woman alone, with no support and, more importantly, no income. An administrative mistake provides the answer: the cemetery accidentally inscribe the headstone with the wrong Gerricke. Following suit, Ella Gerricke buries her femininity and transforms herself into her husband, Max Gerricke.
An incredibly clever idea, Ella’s narration of her past from the present takes us through the war and we, the audience, long for Ella’s emancipation from her husband’s body. Unfortunately this is not to be: after working her husband’s crane operator role comes escaping conscription. Ella cannily concocts a way to outsmart the full physicals and watches her comrades die.
Tricia Kelly does a wonderful job of storytelling: I was captivated for the entire duration of the performance. Kelly is truly admirable and truly talented in embodying a male character so wholly. A few scuffles with some of the mouthier phrases on press night was entirely expected but something I’m sure will be ironed out throughout the show’s run. A little more work on the accents Kelly switches between would make for a smoother show, although it feels some of the play’s meanings may have been lost in translation.
Although I did enjoy it, I’m not sure a one woman play is the best vehicle for such a powerful tale. It’s easy to lose track of the locations and characters and although the descriptions are vivid, I feel so much more could be done. The bare set reflects the bleak socioeconomic landscape perfectly but becomes stale quite quickly. Tilly Branson’s direction ensures that there is no dead space; Kelly is animated and moves within it well.
Interestingly, Tilly and other members of the cast and crew were fortunate enough to meet Manfred Karge, the playwright himself, during a reconnaissance mission in Germany. It was then that they learned that Karge had added a new section following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Karge himself gave them his blessing to use this, giving Park Theatre’s production of Man to Man new significance.
Man to Man is at Park Theatre until 30 November at Park Theatre. For tickets and further information see the Park Theatre website.