Theatre in Wales

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At Wales Millennium Centre

Wales Millennium Centre- Man to Man , Weston Studio, WMC , March 29, 2015
At Wales Millennium Centre by Wales Millennium Centre- Man to Man One of the first things that hits you as you enter the auditorium for this first in-house production under the leadership of the dynamic new Millennium Centre Artistic Director, Graeme Farrow is the spectacular nature of the design by Richard Kent. It continues as we lose the pre-set with its dominating picture of Ella in her ball gown high up in the back stage wall and enter the drab world of her poverty stricken home. With Andrzej Goulding’s video and Rick Fisher’s lighting there are times when it becomes a place of dreams, magic and fantasy in startling contrast to the drab life lived out before us.

Ella, given a sublime and captivating performance by Margaret Ann Bain, tells us that her husband Max has continued to work as a crane driver despite his body being wrecked by cancer. We hear of his death through words and the first of the performance’s engaging, poetic movement excellently choreographed by co-director Bruce Guthrie.

She decides she must take his place and continue his work in order to hold on to their income. It’s 1920 Germany and poverty is all around. When we first see her she is already wearing Max’s clothes. She/He has obviously done a good job of convincing everyone that she is Max. Though Bain doesn’t go to the extreme of giving us a full masculine disguise, she keeps us aware that she is a woman who has taken on the role of a man. This somehow increases the tension as she has to face up to the many masculine challenges that life fires at her.

She takes us on a seventy-minute journey of German history from just before the ascent of Hitler up until the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Manfully swigging beer as she goes. The set allows her to enhance her story telling. She crushes herself into the window, which has become a prison cell. She climbs a wall then takes a chair up with her and sits on it. Extraordinary but it gives the performer opportunity to demonstrate her startling movement and no small amount of comedy ability.

The writing does seem to lose its way at times but we remain totally engaged by the performer and the moments of fantasy. There is a touchingly performed birth of a baby sequence. Ella holds up a cushion but in her shadow projected on to the back wall is holding a real baby. It is these many moments of magic and a performance of both sensitivity and gusto that captures our imagination and engages us with the performance.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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