Albert Finney and Rachel Roberts are pretty big shoes to fill, but Perry Fitzpatrick and Clare Calbraith do a fine job in reviving new life into these classic characters.
To those unfamiliar with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the 1950s classic novel by Alan Sillitoe and subsequent classic film of the British New Wave in the late 50s, early 60s starring Finney, Arthur Seaton is well worth getting acquainted with.
Seaton (Fitzpatrick) is the paragon of the British working class antihero, an outsider, an embodiment of the Angry Young Man that populated the culture of post-war Britain. He lives for the weekend, for drink and for women. He gets what he wants without thought or care. He rages against society in long meandering soliloquys directed at everything and everyone that infringes on his individuality, his freedom.
You may know some of his classic lines, which have floated around pop culture ever since he spurted them: “Whatever you say I am that’s what I’m not,” “don’t let the bastards grind you down,” and one which the play unfortunately misses “I’m out for a good time: all the rest is propaganda.”
The play, unlike the film, splits itself into two clearly defined sections – the first focuses on Seaton’s affair with Brenda (Calbraith), the married woman he gets pregnant, and the second his relationship with Doreen (Tamla Kari).
Fitzpatrick carries the play, and dominates almost every scene; he is so central that the production lives or dies off his performance, and, although Fitzpatrick lacks Finney’s ruggedness, he lives up to the billing, pulling off the roguish charm that gets Seaton through his days, with flare.
However, this is not a one man show – the cast is excellent throughout, and the show is lively, intermixed with song and dance, with a superb 50s soundtrack.
Calbraith is particularly strong in a scene where she tries to induce an abortion with a hot bath and a pint of gin – a common practice of getting people out of ‘trouble’ at the time – showing great versatility and emotion.
By the time Doreen enters the stage, we are privy to Seaton’s ways and are more than a little concerned for what lays in store for her, but it is in Doreen we see a way out for Seaton and the self-imposed alienation his revolt against conformity has created.
Kari brings warmth and freshness at the right time after the dour seriousness of the abortion; however, it is not long before she is on the receiving end of Seaton’s scheming with married women.
It seems poor old Seaton has a penchant for those who are unobtainable, the very fact of which makes him all the more determined, as if he is breaking down the barriers of the conventions he riles against.
And this, whilst Doreen, the one person who is free to offer him a life (and at the same time, the one person who embodies the trappings he wants to avoid) is there waiting for him.
It may be that Seaton will always be an egotistical rogue and Doreen will take a lot more punishment before she gets old, or it may be that their lives will be as sweet as the ending is staged.
There is a certain amount of ambiguity there considering Seaton’s past behaviour, but coming out of the theatre one feels as if this production weighs heavily toward the more positive of the two outcomes – and one would like to think so too.
The production itself, in terms of how the play is produced and staged is second to none.
Transitions between scenes run smoothly, and are so inventive and flow with such energy that they figure as a prominent part of the play, blending the action into one seamlessly, and adding to its pace. Indeed, at times it almost becomes a blur as the elaborate movement of the stage machinery and props etc., intertwines with the action and dialogue of the actors – and all the time Seaton, in the centre of it all, in focus, in amidst all this movement around him.
The scenes themselves are more often than not layered on top of each another, playing out simultaneous threads of dialogue between Seaton and the various people in his life, so that he is talking at one and the same time, one minute to Brenda, the next her husband (and his work colleague) Jack; one minute his Aunt Ada, the next his cousins, his dad, his mum and so on.
This again highlights the centrality of Seaton, and this production is begging us to sympathise with him. It is as if they are doing their utmost to put him on a pedestal for us. He may flout convention and be somewhat morally dubious, but his searing intelligence and the clarity of his thought, his shear anger at his position in life are a force to be reckoned with.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning runs until April 7 at the Royal Exchange.