by Alan Sillitoe adapted by Matthew Dunster.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 7 April 2012.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm. Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 31 March 4pm.
BSL Signed 3 April.
Post-show Discussion .
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 September.

The weekly grind grinds on with theatrical energy.
It was one of the major expressions of the later Fifties, a book with a true Northern (or Midland, as those north of Watford gap might say) anti-hero. Arthur Seaton, centre of Alan Sillitoe’s 1958 novel is a rebel against the factory-life that treats him as a cog in the wheel. Yet, let loose with his mass-produced suit, slickly-combed hair and more than a few pints, he spends his weekends out as a lad, treating the women who fall for him little better than the industrial system treats him. Make that ‘no better’.

Matthew Dunster’s self-directed adaptation in-the-round has plenty of theatrical vibrancy, from the opening drinking and fight challenge, voices heard muzzily amplified as through an alcohol-fuzzed brain. Perry Fitzpatrick’s jack-the-lad Arthur has a casual insolence, whether giving water-off-a-duck’s-back replies to the factory foreman or chatting-up the latest woman to be charmed by his confident manner.

Arthur is no revolutionary; he dismisses factory and workers together as inferior. Both Peter Rice’s sound and Lucy Carter’s lighting clearly create the daily grind of the factory that fills Arthur’s life between weekends. And Anna Fleischle’s in-the-round set, putting up bars between sections of stage and audience (without notably damaging visibility) to give a factory feel, invokes a conveyor-belt, turning-cog industrial world.

For all the upfront theatrical vibrancy, there’s a static dramatic quality that goes beyond the repetitive nature of a worker’s life in 1950s Nottingham, and the small-scale of a rebel with his own course, ultimately confined by the routine grind. It affects the first act more. Yet one of the strongest scenes is also the stillest, least eventful, as Arthur sits by his pregnant girlfriend while she’s trying to abort his unborn baby in a hot bath with a bottle of gin.

The long time elapse here catches a ‘Sunday morning’ after-effect in its anxious waiting. Clare Calbreath gives Brenda an emotional reality deeper than Arthur’s surface existence, while Fitzpatrick captures the cracked clarion monotone of his cock-sure voice.

Inventively directed, it doesn’t answer the question, why stage a novel when there are good plays of the period lying neglected.

Brenda/Beatty: Clare Calbraith.
Harold Seaton: David Crellin.
Winnie/Jane: Chanel Cresswell.
Arthur Seaton: Perry Fitzpatrick.
Emler/Mrs Greatton: Jo Hartley.
Jack: Graeme Hawley.
Doreen/Pamela: Tamla Kari.
Chumley: Archie Lal.
Vera/Aunt Ada: Leigh McDonald.
Robboe/Bert: Ryan Pope.
Dave/Bill: Mark Rose.

Director: Matthew Dunster.
Designer: Anna Fleischle.
Lighting: Lucy Carter.
Sound: Peter Rice.
Movement/Fight director: Kate Waters.
Dialects: Joe Windley.
Assistant director: Max Webster.

2012-03-25 22:58:01

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