Made in Colchester at the Mercury Theatre
Sara Perks' splendid design instantly conjures up a grim world of postwar austerity, the grim industrial Nottingham where Sillitoe set his state-of-the-nation novel.
The steel girders frame sliding doors and screens; before the action, six silhouettes come to life in a clever pastiche of movie titles. The visuals say Sixties, the soundtrack, though, is a lively mix of genres – Lovin' You, Lightning Ball, Rhythm Stick ...
Amanda Whittington's adaptation, first seen in 2006, is punchy and fast-paced. The utility furniture is pushed swiftly around to create the pub or the shopfloor at Raleigh's, as well as more intimate, but no more joyful, domestic settings. The fluent staging is enormously enhanced by the presence of the “Community Chorus”, local volunteer background actors who people the factory and the Goose Fair.
Against this sombre backdrop struts the cock of the walk, a fifty-bob suit under his overalls, that seminal angry young man Arthur Seaton. A self-styled communist, amoral, male chauvinist, he rages against the system, but is always out for what he can get – more pay, more beer, more sex - always ego-centric: even when helping a paralytic Irishman he can't resist recalling his own misfortunes. But he's by no means shallow – one prophetic political rant has tremendous resonance sixty years on ...
He's given a mesmerising performance here by Patrick Knowles; supremely confident but immature and restless underneath it all. Hard to empathise with him – he often eschews naturalistic speech patterns, setting him apart from the other, more predictable characters – but impossible not to feel some sympathy when, after a final soliloquy he decides to try wedded bliss instead of domestic violence. The luckiest bastard in the world ?
The two married women he seduces – under the noses of their husbands – are Gina Isaac as Brenda and Hester Arden as her sister Winnie. The bright, bubbly girl who might just be Seaton's salvation is Elizabeth Twells' Doreen. Ian Kirkby gives a nicely touching performance as the cuckold workmate Jack, and Mercury favourite Tim Treslove puts in overtime as half a dozen others, included that hilarious drunken Mick and Robboe the Rate Checker.
Tony Casement's energetic direction is often surreal, using the doorways as lightboxes to frame a little scene, a few figures. The factory floor and the funfair, when the balloon bursts, are both beautifully done, with a balletic quality to the movement. And the sordid visit from Aunt Ada, terminating Brenda's pregnancy with a steaming, scalding bath and Mother's Ruin, is superbly staged: the red slip, the screen, and Arthur's anxious cigarette smouldering in the shadows.this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews