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The Crack Magazine


One man army

The gripping thriller Get Carter is opening at Northern Stage in February before going on national tour. Reckon you can handle it?

The film was actually based on the novel Jack’s Return Home, but it’s the film you’ll be most familiar with, right? A blaxploitation movie set among the African American community in southern California it concerns an Oakland assassin returning home to investigate the death of his brother. Ring any bells? No? That film is 1972’s Hit Man, which was the second time Ted Lewis’ novel had been filmed. The first time it was committed to celluloid, and rather more successfully, was 1971’s Get Carter with Michael Caine in the title role. (Which itself was remade in 2000 with Sylvester Stallone, and, I think it’s safe to say, can be considered something of a disaster movie.)

The Caine film has long been recognised as one of the greatest British thrillers of all time, but it took a few liberties with the novel, not least in the fact that the action is transferred from Doncaster to Newcastle. This new stage production is set in 1960s Newcastle, but, as writer Torben Betts says, “my adaptation is very much a reaction to the novel the film was based on.” The story is a simple, but relentless and ruthless, one. Jack Carter, a gangster, goes back to his hometown to bury his older brother but he suspects his death was not the accident it first appeared. He then trawls around the town’s seedy underworld and discovers that his suspicions are well-founded. Torben Betts: “What was interesting was to look at how we could re-imagine this very well-known narrative. To look at Jack’s environment growing up as he did in a brutalised post-war world. I wanted to look at the kind of man Jack Carter is, why he became the way he did.” It’s being directed by Northern Stage Artistic Director Lorne Campbell who comments: “I’m very excited to be bringing this iconic north-east story to the stage. Ted Lewis is one of Britain’s great crime and thriller writers and this is his masterpiece, in turns brutal and emotional. It’s a tragic noir study of a corrupted man struggling to find a way out of a corrupted world. We’ve brought together a fabulous team of north-east actors and hope to do justice to the telling of this epic tale.”

Those actors include Kevin Wathen as Jack Carter. Wathen was actually born in Newcastle so he should be able to pull off the local accent, unlike Caine who, probably wisely, didn’t even try. His credits include Tony Elliot in Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace, London); The Godfather in Quadrophenia (Plymouth Theatre/National Tour); and Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Bristol Old Vic).

After her critically acclaimed role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2014, Victoria Elliot returns to Northern Stage to play Margaret and Glenda. The Newcastle-born actor is best known for the BBC sitcom Hebburn, and has also appeared in Emmerdale and Holby City.

The cast also includes Michael Hodgson (who has appeared regularly at Northern Stage over the years, including Catch 22), Donald McBride (best known for TV roles in north-east dramas Our Friends in the North, Spender and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), Amy Cameron (who has appeared in ITV’s Vera alongside Brenda Blethyn), Benjamin Crawly (who played Kanzo in Doctor Who earlier this year), and percussionist Martin Douglas (known for his work with local bands The Baghdaddies and The Unthanks) who will perform live on drums in the role of Frank, Jack’s dead brother who was an amateur jazz drummer throughout his life.

The look and feel of the production promises to be particularly stylish as the set design is being put together by Leo Warner/59 Productions who were the team responsible for video design at Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, as well as for big productions at The Royal Opera House, The National Theatre, The Royal Court, The Young Vic, English National Opera and The Metropolitan Opera in New York. The sound design promises to be something else, too, with Crack fave, and Mercury Prize nominated, Nadine Shah on board. She has recorded original music - as well as new arrangements of songs by iconic 1960s Newcastle band, The Animals - and her noirish vocals should prove the perfect fit for this journey into Newcastle’s underbelly. This is a story that refuses to die and with Jack on the warpath once again, Newcastle really doesn’t know what is going to hit it.

Get Carter, Friday 12 February-Saturday 5 March, Northern Stage, Newcastle, 7.30pm & Sat 2pm (Wed 24 February 6pm), £12-£24. northernstage.co.uk (Note: As part of Get Carter’s national tour it will also be going to the Gala Theatre in Durham from 12-15 April.)