The protagonist of Manfred Karge’s 1982 play, set in 1930s Germany, is a man called Max Gericke. Except he’s actually Ella Gericke, a woman who secretly takes on the identity of her husband after he dies from cancer. She does it to survive.
Ella knows that living during the Depression without a job will be almost impossible. So she takes the perfectly good one that her husband had – that of a crane operator – in order to keep food on the table. Once the lie is established, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to revert back to her original self as the decades go by.
Often shocking, ‘Man to Man’ offers a unique perspective on a swathe of modern German history, from the Great Depression through the rise of the Nazis and the carve-up of Berlin by the Allies, to – in this updated version – the Wall coming down.
But it is also a tale of a woman denied: a loner, hiding in war, hunger and violence, struggling to exist. There are echoes of Brecht here – in the remorselessness of the character’s drive to exist, but also in the play’s startling demonstration of the dehumanising effect of war. Ella’s identity is swallowed up by the events that surround her.
Tricia Kelly is alone on the stage as Ella – or Max as she is mostly known. She/he has cropped hair, belching beer-swigging manners and a husky voice in which she tells her story. Kelly is a raw hunk of a character, angry, sad and alone. At times she laments not being a mother, at others she delights in the ways in which she has fooled people. It’s a big, brash performance that perfectly encapsulates this bundle of contradictions. Karge’s remarkable character adds to the madness, the darkness and the tragedy of that era.