Northern Stage, a Newcastle-based Theatre Company famed for their adaptations of classic plays and films, makes the perfect choice when looking for an adaptation of 1960's iconic film Get Carter starring Michael Caine. Only this is not an adaptation of the film, but actually an adaptation of the book from which the film was also taken.
The story, in a nutshell is really simple. Gangster Jim in London travels up to Newcastle, his hometown, for his brother's funeral. Realises that he had been killed by the local mafia, and so spends the rest of his time uncovering the truth, wreaking his revenge and paying the ultimate price for so doing.
So we are in Newcastle, in the late 60s and in order to try and create this, a composite, multi-purpose set had been designed and constructed. It amounted to a railway arch with a huge pile of bricks cascading down from behind the archway and through to the front leaving room on the apron for the actors to use for majority of the scenes. An omnipresent coffin, the chairs, tables etc needed for each scene left on the stage against the brick pile, and a drum kit. There is no denying the set was impressive, and how they were able to construct this tumbling pile of bricks is something of a technical mystery. They got the colour and the back lighting just right. My companion for the evening had spent some time in Newcastle and was much impressed with this saying that it did indeed remind him of that city and the time he spent there.
My thoughts on the set personally was that for such a wonderfully evocative and detailed backdrop, using such a minimalist almost Brechtian approach to each scene played in front of it seemed somehow wrong.
Further I really expected the pile of bricks to tumble and fall over Jack in the final scene consuming him quite literally. Maybe that would just have been technically impossible.
The lighting, and the sound effects used for the sudden light changes were very effective. I liked this and it worked nicely. I also liked the soundtrack, background music which although was mostly too modern for the late 60s period, didn't actually worry me since it seemed so apt and fitted in so well. I really loved the shadows on the wall too. That was a great idea and worked nicely.
In general the acting was of a very high standard, although it did look at times as if the actors were 'acting' rather than simply being. It came across as 'stagy'. This was especially so when actors seemed to talk directly out to the middle distance. They never once broke the fourth wall, but they all seemed to be very aware that there was an audience there.
I think the accents may well have been toned down somewhat for audiences out of Newcastle, which was a very wise idea; although some of the accents were just a little shaky. Especially Amy Cameron as Doreen.
The first half hour of the first act was really quite boring. It was nothing more than exposition and huge chunks of unnecessary dialogue. Things only really started to become interesting with the introduction of Brumby (Donald McBride). In general the pace needed to be quicker. No-one ran or moved quickly. Everyone had the same speed of delivery. It was only the tensions and fights that kept our interest. Jack Carter, played here by Kevin Wathen, was a much harder and deeper character than he is portrayed in the film; but giving him this depth actually made me feel sorry for him in the final scene when he is simply left below the pile of bricks to bleed to death. This scene was actually finely done, and the blooding of Jim very realistic.
I read in the programme that the adaptor Torben Betts first wrote several scenes as a Greek tragedy, but abandoned that and started afresh. However the idea of Greek drama has stayed very much within this play. The all seeing, observer and mute commentator on the actions being that of Jack's murdered brother, and also Jack has many long speeches which drive the plot and give insight into his character, very much in the style of Greek drama.
The play started at 8:00pm (a late start for a two act play), and didn't finish until 10:45pm which was indeed too late. A whole bunch of audience left at 10:15pm, presumably because they had buses and trains to catch. It was indeed overlong, and dialogue heavy. It would in my mind have worked better if many of the longer speeches had been shortened and scene changes had been affected quicker and smoother. We could also have cut the cabaret song too. This added nothing to the plot development.
An enjoyable and professional production which just overstayed its welcome and didn't really keep us fully entertained.
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 19th April 2016