Last night I attended the play Man to Man starring Maggie Bain as the main character at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre. Man to Man was written by Manfred Karge and was translated by Alexandra Wood. Man to Man has been travelling in the UK since September and is touring New York City after this week. It was an incredible performance, so touching, so moving – it was truly fantastic and Maggie was superb.
The play focusses on the relationship between Ella Gericke and Max Gericke. The pair married for a short period before Max became ill and subsequently died. Ella then decided to assume the identity and the role of her husband in order to protect herself in society and to be financially secure. Ella buried Max under her own name and Ella became Max – she altered his clothing and she had previously quizzed him about his job as a crane driver, she recognised how she was subconsciously prepared to undertake his job. Ella claimed, ‘I presented myself astonishingly well’, this I particularly appreciated as it engaged with how the physical body can be manipulated and altered to present as something different.
The staging was very sparse with just a bed, an armchair and a trunk. However, the character of Ella/Max was at one point hanging off the wall, and then disappeared inside the suitcase (incredible) and sat in a chair that was attached to the wall. There was also an incredible use of graphics. A particularly poignant moment for me was when Ella was yearning for a child. A cushion was used as a substitute as a child. However, the graphics on the wall showed Ella caring for a human baby. Essentially, she was yearning to fulfil her role as a mother. There was also an inner turmoil when she repeatedly threw the cushion away, disguarding it, forced herself to fulfil the stiff upper lip role of a man.
I will admit that the plot did become a little difficult to follow at time. For instance Max spoke with a Glaswegian accent yet the play was set in WWII Germany and Ella (and other female characters) were represented through a quintessentially British accent. Although I know the accents distinguished between characters, I was conscious of whether or not the accent should have been German? Or European at least? Nonetheless, Maggie as a performer was sublime and the play truly was fantastically crafted.
I am conscious to not spoil the plot too much because of its brilliance. However, I will pick out a couple of scenes that have really resonated with me. Firstly, the personification of clothing was really interesting. Ella used Max’s overcoat and placed it on the back of the chair. She then raised the collar as it a head and placed her hand under the sleeve and brought the coat to life. Ella relived the relationship between herself and Max when he was ill and before his death through this personification.
Likewise, in the second half of the play, Max discusses how he had an admirer. A woman who was interested in him as a man, ‘poppet’ he called her, ‘you are my shining star’. The red dress that was lowered from the ceiling became an embodiment of Poppet. Max held the dress as he would a woman or lover and danced with it. This was a moving moment where it showed Max as a vulnerable man and an unhappy man due to his constant lying and concealing his identity. His Poppet was also revealed to be a ‘red’ (Soviet Russian), she came to Max to help her escape from Germany. He wanted to be with her but saved her through giving her his passport – the only relic he had saved from his life as Ella Gerricke. This scene also showed Max to be officially loosing his identity as female. Until that point Max had his passport and could leave his male life if necessary, Max stated that if necessary his passport could save him, ‘save myself in a blouse and skirt’. The passport was symbolic of his true identity. Without this he was stuck as Max for the remainder of his life.
This play tackled all types of emotion from comedy, anxiety, violence, illness, physical demise and mental health distress. Towards the end of the place when Max was growing older and essentially dying, his mental health was actively challenged and questioned. In the scene where Max was sitting on a chair that was attached to the wall vertically and was watching TV. My interpretation of the scene was that it was post-Berlin Wall collapse and there were convictions of Nazi sympathisers happening. The prosecutor verbally quizzed the perpetrator asking why he did what he did and why he was an active member of the Nazi party. Max finds all of these questions funny and he bursts into spontaneous laughter. The narrator then asks, ‘are you mentally ill’? This question is repeated and gets louder and louder, consuming Max’s thoughts causing him to lose control of himself and fall to the floor claiming that he is not mentally ill.
This was a distressing scene and emphasised the difficulty that Max faced as a man, as a gender stereotype, as a member of the masculine community. It brought into question why he wanted to live as male, why did he reject his biological identity? Was it simply a necessity? Did Ella really want to live as Max? What was the meaning of it? How successful was Max?
Once again, a beautiful rendition of a play with an incredible actress. If you get the chance go and see it before it is too late!
Everyman Theatre – Man to Man Reviews