MAN TO MAN by Manfred Karge - Edfringe Review

I am no fan of Brecht. While political theatre is my passion and Brecht’s enlightened genius is unsurpassed, I still subscribe to Aristotelian pleasure: clean, messy, cathartic. As I was contemplating Manfred Karge’s Man to Man I was preparing myself for an anti-climax. Karge is known as the dramatist who started out as an actor at Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble where he had been discovered by Helena Weigel in 1961, and fifty years later he is still there. His plays threaten to be brilliantly Brechtian and guess what? Man To Man is pure revolutionary politics. This is no kitchen sink realism. This is pure epic prose married with poetry, realism, artifice, Classicism, Revolution, cross-dressing and irresistible criminality as it lived and breathed at the fringes of society.

The ‘story’ told in a Kargeian fashion, is presented by one character: Ella Gericke. This wild, anarchic, raw paradigm of a woman who is forced to assume her dead husband’s identity, brings before us a case of cold-hearted pragmatism of what happens when you, as a woman, have to cope with National Socialism. The descriptions are numbingly poetic: In one scene, the dialogue describes the grey walls of a cell: we assume Gericke has been captured and ended up in prison – until we realise that she is not the prisoner, but the guard. To dodge the draft, Karge’s cross-dressing anti-hero has joined the Nazis’ paramilitary arm, the SA.
Man to Man is unmistakably a play about working life, about Capitalism and the remnants of Communism, about war and about gender.

Margaret-Ann Bain is superbly physical. In 70 minutes she conveys the passion of Karge’s piece with gripping conviction. Bruce Gurthie’s direction is commendable if only a little too overdone for a piece which really speaks for itself.

Karge dramatises the unnoticed man’s struggle for self-determination and identity in the most powerful way and bestows on it a pathos and humanity only a great poet can deliver. And for those of us who are still unsure about Brecht, I’ll leave the last word to the author of Man to Man:

“For Brecht”, Karge says in a recent interview, “every performance starts from zero. Brecht never tried to confuse people – he wanted to tell stories and be understood.”

I am beginning to like Brecht. If you are in a philosophical mood, you must not miss this.

(c) Effie Samara 2015

Underbelly Potterrow, Edinburgh
5-31 August
Box Office 0844 545 8252
A Wales Millennium Centre production
Man to Man
From the play Jacke Wie Hose by Manfred Karge.
Stage Adaptation by Alexandra Wood.

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