“It was risky, but I had no choice”
There’s something truly extraordinary in Tricia Kelly’s performance in this one-woman play Man To Man. As Elsa Gericke, she plays a woman who chooses to abandon her identity and take on her recently deceased husband’s, along with his job, in order to achieve a measure of independence and a shot at surviving through the harsh times of economic depression in 1920s Germany. This decision affects the rest of her life, or his life, as she maintains the deception at great cost during the troubled history of the following decades.
Caught between who she is and who she was, Kelly never lets us forget that her whole persona is a performance – something being acted as a disguise – with aching hints of that sublimated femininity everpresent. The play is told by Gericke looking back on her life, slipping effortlessly betwixt past and present through a sozzled haze of schnapps and from the collapsed armchair of Eleanor Field’s design and the dim richness of Sarah McColgan’s lighting, Kelly utterly owns the smaller of the Park’s theatres with a fearsome display of acting.
Which makes it something of a shame that there’s a distinct feeling that the play doesn’t quite match up to the performance. I have history with Manfred Karge and he does little to dispel that illusion here with little of real insight to say about gender, Germany or gubbins in general. Anthony Vivis’ translation of the writing is weighted down with a predilection of ponderous metaphors and distracting rhyming couplets and it is hard to really connect intellectually with the material. That said, director Tilly Branson has ensured an amazing piece of acting from Tricia Kelly is allowed to shine front and centre.