Director Bruce Guthrie on the process of creating Man to Man
The idea to direct Man to Man came to me as so many great ideas do… in the bath!
I was reading a book on directing by Stephen Unwin (former Artistic Director of English Touring Theatre and the Rose Theatre, Kingston) and he often mentioned an extraordinary one-woman show he had directed at the Traverse theatre starring Tilda Swinton and designed by Bunny Christie.
I had been looking for a project to do with my wife Maggie Bain, she is a huge Tilda Swinton fan and the themes Stephen described in his book sounded like something that would appeal to her.
The play is a collection of 26 scenes telling the story of Ella Gericke – a woman who assumes her husband’s identity in order to keep his income and their apartment following his untimely death due to bone cancer. The piece flips from poetry to prose and is unmistakably German in its bold, muscular and vivid storytelling.
When Maggie and I met Manfred Karge at the Berliner Ensemble, he explained that the play was written for his wife and was based on a true story. He spoke at length about Ella’s character, describing her as a working class hero, a survivor, someone who magpies quotes from great German literature but doesn’t necessarily understand them from an intellectual point of view.
I was strongly drawn to what I felt were the fairy tale aspects of the play, there are no stage directions so my imagination was allowed to run wild. Manfred was enthusiastic about my vision for his play and was soon on board with my plan for a new version.
All I needed was to find a translator to create a literal translation of the play and a playwright to create a new version that would bring out all of my instincts in the text. That’s where Penny Black and Alexandra Wood come in.
Penny is one of the leading literal translators of German plays in the UK. Her extensive research into the etymology and anatomy of German colloquialisms was perfectly matched with Alex’s meticulous, sensitive and forensic playwriting approach. They worked together brilliantly to excavate every word and quote in the play. As a director, it was fantastic to be a part of the process. I was able to listen in on their conversations and learn why certain combinations of words had been chosen and why phrases were specifically constructed the way they were.
It’s been an incredible journey. Following a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2015, we are taking this remarkable play on a UK tour before flying off to play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.
Man to Man is at the Everyman, Wednesday 25 October to Saturday 28 October 2017
Posted in PRODUCTIONS