Dir. Lorne Campbell, Citizens Theatre, 8th – 12th March
In the opening scene of Torben Betts adaptation of Ted Lewis’s 1970s novel, Get Carter, our eyes are drawn to the dominating prop taking the centre-stage: the coffin of Frank Carter. His presence onstage is never forgotten, taking the shape of a speechless actor at the periphery of the stage. He remains mostly on the fringes of the action until the final moments of the performance. Taking a more existential approach to the original 1971 film adaptation, Jack Carter is the only character to speak to him and reveal his turmoil and confusion, as he attempts to piece together the reasons for his estranged brother’s death. At times these moments of reflection become tedious, particularly through the first act, but they add greater depth and complexity to Jack’s vengeful character.
Naturally, Jack Carter not only takes centre stage several times but moves freely around, controlling the action and deciding who can enter or exit. Sometimes he has a shotgun to emphasise his power, as he wields his brutal justice on the characters who have wronged his brother and his niece. In a cruel irony, this power is tragically undermined by the play’s most spineless character, as well as by Carter’s unseen arch-enemy, Gerald Fletcher.
Yet throughout the play come moments of comic relief, particularly through the colourful language and colloquial Geordie banter that adds flavour to the working-class setting. Furthermore, the director takes advantage of the 1970s background by providing us with some dramatic irony, such as one character predicting that one day there may be a woman residing in Downing Street. There are also moments of black comedy too, particularly during the kidnapping scene, ensuring that the play’s more brutal content does not become too harrowing.
While the 1971 film throws out violence by the bucketload, this production takes a more character-driven interpretation, from the returning native Jack Carter to the spirited but vulnerable victim Doreen. Although from time to time the actors deliver their lines a little too quickly, their nuanced performances and subtle appreciation of the play’s dark atmosphere ensure that the drama moves its way easily through the angst, hypocrisy and ambition of each character.