STAGE REVIEW: Get Carter @ Northern Stage, Newcastle (17.02.16) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Jack Carter has made the long journey north, returning home for the first time in years to a city he swore he’d never see again. Riding the rails from a never-hipper swinging sixties London to a grim, violent Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he’s spewed out into a soot-blackened city shattered by deindustrialisation and overrun by ruthless local crime families; back to settle debts, rattle cages, and finally uncover the horrible truth about the death of his brother.

Returning to the original, seminal 1969 novel Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis, writer Torben Betts eschews the trappings and linear thrust of Mike Hodges’ near-definitive take on the material in his hugely influential and much-loved 1971 film. Keeping the title only and delving deep into the brutal post-war psychosphere of the city, Betts instead takes us into the mind of the titular enforcer.

Kevin Wathen is outstanding as the embittered Geordie bruiser returning to the roost, slick suits and money gentrifying him while scarcely concealing the hollowed out thug bubbling beneath. Genre tropes in full brilliant force, Carter finds himself caught on the cusp of a new beginning in South Africa with just one last job to do before he puts a life of crime behind him.

As a barely-contained wraith haunted by the voice of his brother (actualised on stage by a silent but ever-present Martin Douglas as Frank Carter), Wathen unnerves as a remorseless angel of vengeance moving relentlessly from one grim decision to another, all the while looking inward and finding nothing but an increasingly hollow shell.

Playing out on and around a colossal stone arch disgorging a mammoth pile of dank red bricks onto the stage (representing the place where Carter not only played with his brother as a child but will eventually meet his death), the show also boasts a brand-new authentically sixties soundtrack, a fresh take on the material and a slew of great performances.

Despite all of this, Get Carter still ends up hobbled by an overly-wordy script and an ongoing struggle to get across a solid sense of place. The mental landscape of our antihero is brought vividly front and centre, but is ultimately uncompelling, looking inward at the expense of solidly locating the action as Jack burns across the city seeking the truth. A fantastic bit of scene-setting involving starkly-lit and looming shadowplay is criminally underused throughout, despite being hugely effective when it does take place.

Sitting uneasily alongside the wonderfully rich, sweary dialogue and palpable tension, some comedic moments and performance choices feel wildly out of place, one in particular landing during the final, extraordinarily tense scene, entirely derailing what could have been a dark and unforgettable ending.

But, it’s a big play, and it’s not in bad shape. While flawed, Get Carter will nevertheless do very well throughout the nationwide tour ahead of it, with name recognition, stellar production design and great, propulsive performances barrelling it along, heading back south on the journey Jack was fated never to make.

Get Carter runs at Northern Stage, Newcastle until Saturday 5th March.

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