Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Alan Sillitoe adapted by Amanda Whittington
Fruit, Humber Street, Hull
There is something invitingly rough about ‘Fruit’—one of Hull’s most recent and adaptable performance spaces. Having worked there myself a few times I can testify to its intimate and utilitarian atmosphere. This week it is being used with incredible efficiency by Middle Child Theatre Company in their production of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning adapted by Amanda Whittington from Alan Sillitoe’s first award winning novel.
Presenting the play in traverse, Middle Child fills the space with the apparatus of hard working life. Bicycle parts—emblematic of the Raleigh factory, where part of this Nottingham tale is set—adorn an acting area where half-eaten breakfasts, tin baths, beer glasses and bottles can also be found.
Middle Child is a young company (God, how sick they must be of being described as such—but they are) most of whom are recent graduates of Hull University. This month they became an associate company of Hull Truck Theatre, and in this as in many of their other productions they are demonstrating why they have garnered so much interest.
Sillitoe’s 1958 story may depict a world of full employment, but it is one of blunted ambition and frustrated energy—where workers are as much cogs in the machine as the ones they laboriously operate. The anti-hero Arthur Seaton (Marc Graham), is a leering young man of effortless mendacity, living for the weekends when his alcohol-fuelled libido leads to him casually bedding his friend’s wife, Brenda (Ellen Brammar) as well as her sister, Winnie (Emma Bright). In one of the production's best and most harrowing scenes, Brenda endures a gin-soaked abortion at the hands of Aunt Ada, as Arthur offers her friend a £1 for her trouble. For those brainless reactionaries who hanker for the golden era of ‘Rule Britannia’ some 50 years ago, they really should see this.
In a uniformly strong cast, Marc Graham is terrific as Seaton. Whereas Albert Finney, in the film version, is bullishly and charismatically handsome, Graham exercises a lethal, smiling charm. He is all innocence as he beds the two married sisters with scarcely any sheet cooling time in between. Sometimes, the volume of the constant live music forces Graham to use an overly declamatory style, but as the production settles I feel sure he will make greater use of his considerable vocal range. He has the part nailed and simply needs to relax a little more here and there. His cry of “Whatever people say I am, thats what I’m not” is a dignifying statement of defiance; a brilliantly executed and chilling ‘fuck you’ to whoever of us thinks we have the right to judge him.
As Brenda, Ellen Brammar excellently depicts the married woman desperate for excitement and barely constrained by conscience. At once, she is both outraged and seduced by Arthur, as much a victim of her own needs and impoverished ambition as he is. There is excellent support from the rest of the cast—particularly Sophie Thompson, whose naive and trusting Doreen still has the innate sense of self preservation to have her man ensnared by the end.
Paul Smith directs courageously and with a bold imprint. He is someone who understands the practical application of Brechtian technique and its potentially powerful impact; he’s not trying to make himself look clever but succeeds, instead, in making his production ringingly clear. The men and women in the audience are separated across the divide by the rasied platform stage—as in the tribal dance halls of the era.
Graham directs the more misogynistic statements of Arthur towards the males, hoping for sympathy. The staging is imaginative and economic and the quality of movement—especially during the fight scenes—impeccably choreographed. Live music is provided by The Black Mondays led by musical director James Frewer. The underscoring of each scene is mostly highly effective, although there are some moments, I would suggest, that are crying out for silence.
It is reassuring to find a young company (there I go again) prepared to take on a classic like this and produce it with a clear uncomplicated polemic. When the virtue of work is being preached by those in power to those with little chance of finding any, this is a timely as well as polished and deeply thought provoking production.
Reviewer: Richard Vergette