The coffin that sits centre stage at the opening of Northern Stage's new dramatisation of Ted Lewis' grim slice of post-1960s pulp fiction is as symbolic of the demise of northern England's industrial powerhouse as the mountain of bricks behind it. It is also what drags local tough guy made good Jack Carter back from the affluent south to make a prodigal's return to bury his brother Frank. What Jack returns to, as anyone who has seen Mike Hodges' iconic big-screen 1971 adaptation will know, is a murky world of back-street gangsterism that preys on an acquisitive desperation for the good life flogged off as cheap thrills. Booze, home-made porn and bent slot machines are all fair game.
By returning to Lewis' book, writer Torben Betts and director Lorne Campbell manage to fill in the blanks the film left out through a last-gasp interior monologue cum confessional that lays bare Jack's own messed-up psychology in an even more messed-up world. Jack is played by Kevin Wathen, who leads a cast of seven with a steely fury that gives the piece its perverted moral compass in the face of a grotesquely observed array of reptilian hit-men and molls.
Frank is personified onstage by jazz drummer Martin Douglas, whose pitter-pattering brush strokes sound increasingly like a death knell. Surrounded by the damaged goods of the never-had-it-so-bad years, Jack also exposes how the dream of post-war urban renewal became a pyre of civic corruption fuelled by empire-building greed. All of this is shot through with the depth and intensity of Greek tragedy in a stylish and unremitting piece of slow-burning brutalist noir.
The Herald, March 11th 2016