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Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, RX, Reviewed

Kevin Bourke finds the Matthew Dunster production, colourful and 'real'

Published on March 6th 2012.


Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, RX, Reviewed

MATTHEW DUNSTER clearly wasn't kidding when he said that he thought this brave new version of the Alan Sillitoe classic, which he's adapted and directed for the Royal Exchange, could easily prove something of a shock to anyone who thought they knew the book from the famous black and white film version.

It reclaims a vital part of working class history with passion, with power - and with pop music. It's not perfect, because it shouldn't be. But it is great and it positively demands your attention.

Dunster's version of the hard-hitting book is quite brilliant, not only in its intent and execution but also rather more literally, in its vibrant use of colour and music.

Here, working class life in the Fifties isn't moody, black and white and probably set to a jazz soundtrack, as we so often think thanks to the artificial memory of film reels, but bright and alive, brutal and frightening.

Yet this production, for all its steely ferocity, is just as stylised in its own way, as full of playful visual and musical references to the Technicolor musicals of the day, as any Matthew Bourne dance production.

In fact, this harrowing journey actually starts out as if we're embarking on a cheery musical, with the central character Arthur Seaton (Perry Fitzpatrick) emerging surrounded by a colourful chorus of cheerful drunks advising us to 'be drunk and be happy".

As it turns out, Fitzpatrick is so central to this remarkable production that he's on stage for the whole of it apart from the interval, with his costumes changed by women who seem to spend as much time taking their own clothes off as they do putting his on for him.

Tamla Kari As Doreen And Perry Fitzpatrick As Arthur Seaton In Saturday Night And Sunday Morning %28Royal Exchange Theatre Until 7 April%29. Photo - Jonathan Keenan %283%29Tamla Kari As Doreen And Perry Fitzpatrick As Arthur Seaton In Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, Royal Exchange Theatre Until 7 April. Photo - Jonathan Keenan.

Fortunately then, Fitzpatrick, familiar mostly from his This Is England films for Shane Meadows, give a tremendous performance, vividly evoking a charismatic character whose philosophy, insofar as he has one at all, is simply summed up in the phrase "don't let the bastards grind you down".

Life for Arthur is an apparently endless succession of booze, birds and kicking against the pricks. Yet he's not so much amoral and inarticulate as fiercely intelligent enough to make himself as immune as humanly possible to the unavoidable implications of a dead-end working class life.

He works just hard enough to buy flash clothes and all the women want to love him. Even - or should that be especially? - the married ones, including Brenda (Clare Calbraith) and her sister Winnie (Chanel Cresswell, also from This Is England).

In a production that positively pelts along and is full of dazzling set-pieces, ironically one of the most remarkable is a long, almost unbearably upsetting and static, scene in which Brenda, naked and suffering terribly in a hot bath as she knocks back the gin, tries to abort Arthur's child.

Perry Fitzpatrick As Arthur Seaton And Clare Galbraith As Brenda In Saturday Night And Sunday Morning %28Royal Exchange Theatre Until 7 April%29. Photo - Jonathan Keenan. %282%29Perry Fitzpatrick As Arthur Seaton And Clare Calbraith As Brenda In Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, Royal Exchange Theatre. Until 7 April Photo - Jonathan Keenan.

By contrast, a later scene where, as if holding up two fingers to fate, Arthur takes both his lovers Brenda and Winnie together on the fairground rides at the Goose Fair is startlingly full of life and excitement, even when two squaddies, sent by irate husbands, take a brutal revenge on the defiantly unrepentant Arthur.

This is a production where the big theatrical flourishes, of which there are many, work as well as they do because the performances, which could be overshadowed by all those bold strokes and big ideas, more than hold their own. It reclaims a vital part of working class history with passion, with power - and with pop music. It's not perfect, because it shouldn't be. But it is great and it positively demands your attention.

At the Royal Exchange until April 7th

 

Perry Fitzpatrick As Arthur Seaton In Saturday Night And Sunday Morning %28Royal Exchange Theatre Until 7 April%29. Photo - Jonathan KeenanPerry Fitzpatrick As Arthur Seaton In Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, Royal Exchange Theatre Until 7 April. Photo - Jonathan Keenan

Tamla Kari As Doreen And Perry Fitzpatrick As Arthur Seaton In Saturday Night And Sunday Morning %28Royal Exchange Theatre Until 7 April%29. Photo - Jonathan Keenan %282%29Tamla Kari As Doreen And Perry Fitzpatrick As Arthur Seaton In Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, Royal Exchange Theatre Until 7 April. Photo - Jonathan Keenan.

 

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