Man to Man at the Park
East German playwright Manfred Karge wrote and first performed Man to Man, a one-woman play, in Germany in 1982. It was eventually brought to the UK in 1987, catapulting Tilda Swinton to fame. Today, this translated adaptation at the Park Theatre includes an additional scene incorporating the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, befitting of its 25th anniversary.
Man to Man tells the tale of Ella Gericke, a widow who takes on her late husband’s identity and his job in order to survive the economic depression and spiralling hyperinflation of 1920s Germany. What intends to be a temporary transition soon becomes a way of life as Ella increasingly becomes Max. Her sexuality and identity, confused by the transformation, is further obscured when the Nazis take over Germany. Ella takes sanctuary as an SA prison guard in order to avoid the military medical that threatens to expose her secret, sinking her deeper and deeper into a life from which she would never escape.
Upon entering the small dimly lit space at the Park Theatre, it is impossible to ignore Tricia Kelly as Ella collapsed in an armchair, murmuring in drunken unconsciousness. Truly mesmerising, Kelly continues to act out as the audience settles. From that moment on her performance is truly something to behold. Raw, dark and more disturbing than facing death itself, her transition from man to woman is impressive. She flits between masquerading as a fierce beer-swigging man and a soft, vulnerable woman yearning for a child with the smoothness of melted chocolate, and from past to present and back to the past again as if gifted with an invisible time machine.
However it is the lyrical sections and sexily tinged fantasies that fall flat in this surreal play. Swamped with overwritten metaphors and confused by sections of dialogue in rhyming verse, the language sometimes feels superfluous, and the play disjointed as it is further hindered by bizarre scenes of a twisted cabaret and a pregnancy fantasy.
Despite Kelly’s obvious skill, the play jolts through Ella’s life so much that it judders. Transposing what could be a very simple and powerful narrative with an obscure and baffling play, it is not until the very last scene that we experience the fear and oppression that rippled through Hitler’s Germany, as Kelly marches anxiously to a distant, thudding beat.
Man to Man is at Park Theatre until 30th November 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Man to Man here: