Get Carter at Northern Stage

Got it?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Northern Stage production of Get Carter in Newcastle last night. I knew it had been a black and white film with Micheal Caine acting, as usual, as Micheal Caine. I knew there was an unclear association with a Gateshead multi story car park from which someone plummets to their death. It’s been knocked down now – it’s a Tesco and some students flats.
Consequently I had an open mind about it. And I was very pleasantly surprised. The minimalist set with a huge pile of bricks under a dripping railway arch was dark and atmospheric. Scaffolding and props and a few shadows made up the rest of the Newcastle in the 60’s ambiance. Newcastle wasn’t London, but there was still something of a ‘scene’ and an underground culture of organised crime and violence.

Looking for revenge

It took me until the next morning to realise that Michael Caine actually was the Jack Carter character, originally from Newcastle who had somehow become a full blown cockney during his Southern soujourn, whereas our Jack had lost absolutely none of his Geordie accent whatsoever. A bit like Ant and Dec.

Blimey look at the state of Fenwick’s window!

The story is based on the novel ‘Jack’s Return Home’ by Ted Lewis – a classic British Crime fiction novel. One of things I liked about the play was that it was able to bring in some of the literary feeling of its original source.  Comments on the trap of capitalism (you have to keep going you have to get bigger, want more)  and of the newly wealthy bourgeoisie with their white leather sofas, frosted glass, brick fireplaces with electric fires and a ‘Flatford fucking Mill print!’
I had to look that last one up – its that chocolate boxy rural Constable painting which was considered sophisticated in the 70’s.
This added depth to what is essentially quite a brutal and hopeless story. Jack’s brother Frank has been killed and he has returned to his native North East to find out whodunit and wreak his revenge.
In this quest he comes across a series of unsavoury underworld characters and the young daughter his brother has left behind. Doreen, Frank’s daughter is very well played by Amy Cameron. She is a vulnerable minor who we come to find has been exploited in an under age porno movie and has as foul a mouth as any of the gangsters she has grown up around.

Doreen in danger

The acting was consistently good. Kevin Wathen as Jack Carter took a while to convince me but he  increased in confidence throughout the play and he was able to carry the unhappy story with an assured performance. His slow and tortuous demise in the last scene (spoiler alert!) was one of the best on stage deaths I’ve seen and I was almost surprised when he got back up at the end for a bow.

Playing nice

I really enjoyed Victoria Elliot’s dual performances. She was both Margaret, Frank’s married prostitute girlfriend with a liking for an awful lot of Scotch but without much conscience, and  Glenda the much posher but equally unscrupulous consort of a more high ranking criminal kingpin.
Malcolm Hodgson was variously slimy and sinister as underground casino boss Kinnear and then as Con the unstable Irish hit man for hire.
I especially enjoyed the performance of Donald McBride who conveyed ‘evil old man’ with great humour and energy. You really, really didn’t mind when Margaret suffocated him with a cushion.
There’s lots of swearing in the show, but we did not find it offensive. It was used very much in context and was often very funny too.

It wasn’t me!

Everyone is out to get everyone. There are no ‘good’ characters in this piece. As Eric, who is finally revealed as Frank’s killer says ‘If I didn’t do him, he would have done me.’
A simple enough equation.
We thoroughly enjoyed Get Carter. It has a strong script, gritty characters and very good acting. Well that’s all theatre needs to be isn’t it?
It’s on in Newcastle until March 5th and then goes on tour.

Where’s my bleedin’ glasses?