The Northern Stage’s production of Get Carter, which many will recognise from Michael Caine’s iconic turn in the 1971 movie, is a celebration of blunt, North East humour and 70’s gangster aesthetics. A tale of sex, violence and excess unfolds as mobster Jack Carter returns to Newcastle to investigate the mysterious circumstance of his brother’s untimely death.
Unlike Caine’s loveable rogue, Kevin Wathen’s performance casts Jack as a dislikeable figure, with his aggressive postures and ambiguous intentions for his bereaved niece Doreen. Likewise, Doreen proved to be quite a cardboard character, her inner turmoil wasn’t performed very sensitively, to the extent that I didn’t particularly feel for her in the torture scene, which I realise is a horrible thing to say! But everyone in the audience thoroughly enjoyed the lurid and amoral humour which was rife with characters such as prostitute Margaret and the godfather figure Albert. I thought that it was a brilliant dramatic decision to have the haunting apparition of the deceased brother Frank present in all the scenes, as it grounded Jack’s frequent extended monologues and was in keeping with the gritty, real tone of the play.
The use of shadow to suggest Jack’s waiting lover on the end of the telephone line in London was another innovative move, and the production’s lighting of the anti-hero’s vertiginous journey as both the hunter and the hunted was very atmospheric. Set designers fully utilised the incredible breadth of stage 1 to create an industrial brick and rubble backdrop which proved surprisingly adaptable as the actors were able to scramble all over it.
I recognised the husky croons of local lass Nadine Shah in the production’s haunting music, and it turns out she’d reworked some of the songs of Newcastle band ‘The Animals’. I believe that the use of music in the play was a particular triumph, as Frank’s unpursued desire to be a jazz drummer is foregrounded and seamlessly soundtracks both the industrial open spaces, and seedy clubs and bars. Whilst the pace of Get Carter may have lulled at times, Jack and Frank’s ambivalent relationship was deftly explored and the production was technically superb.