‘Saturday Night’ on stage – Matthew Dunster adapts Alan Sillitoe’s classic
“Don’t let the bastards grind you down” – the words that Arthur Seaton lives by are stamped in no-nonsense text at the foot of the poster for Matthew Dunster’s adaptation of ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, opening at the Royal Exchange, Manchester on Thursday 1 March 2012.
In stark monochrome, Perry Fitzpatrick, playing Arthur, glares out at the world, one hand balled into a fist as he fixes his cufflink. You can almost hear the classic, in-yer-face, belligerent line “I’m me and nobody else; and whatever people think I am or say I am, that’s what I’m not, because they don’t know a bloody thing about me.”
Retaining the late 50s Nottingham setting on Alan’s novel, Matthew Dunster’s new production – his return to the Royal Exchange following his headline-grabbing adaptation of George Orwell’s ‘1984’and the Bruntwood Prize-winning ‘Mogadishu’ – promises to fuse kitchen sink realism with his acclaimed capacity for exciting theatrical immediacy.
Perry Fitzpatrick, who has already chalked up an impressive slate of film and TV credits, gave a break-out performance in Channel 4’s ‘This is England 1986’, directed by Shane Meadows. The cast also includes Graeme Hawley (John Stape in ‘Coronation Street’), Clare Calbraith (Jane Moorsum in ‘Downton Abbey’), David Crellin (another ‘Corrie’ alumnus; he played Colin Fishwick), Chanel Cresswell and Jo Hartley (respectively, Kelly and Cynthia in the original film version of ‘This is England’), Ryan Pope (“Psycho” Paul in the sitcom ‘Ideal’) and Tamla Kari (Lucy in the big screen version of ‘The Inbetweeners’).
So: a high-profile cast, the authentic working-class novel by way of source material, and one Britain’s most dynamic theatre directors at the helm. It’s a safe bet to say that this will prove unmissable. The production runs till Saturday 7 April. A new generation of theatre-goers can take advantage of the Royal Exchange’s Happy Mondays offer with tickets at just £5 for under 25s. There are also audio-interpreted and BSL-described performances. For further details, please contact the Royal Exchange box office on 0161 833 9833 or visit their website at www.royalexchange.co.uk.
Matthew Dunster kindly spared the Alan Sillitoe Website some time to answer the three questions uppermost in our mind about the production:
Your striking version of Orwell’s ‘1984’ was memorably described as “Kafka meets Kraftwerk”. Can we expect an equally iconoclastic take on Alan Sillitoe?
MD: I don’t know. My interpretation of ‘1984’ was as focused on the book, its themes and tone as I thought possible. In that respect I’d argue that “Kafka meets Kraftwerk” represents the scale of Orwell’s imagination – psychological horror meets crude technology.
I’m attempting to focus on Sillitoe’s novel. I want to bring out the elements that surprise me – the iconoclastic attitude to empire and the army, the colour of working class life, the extreme nature of the sexual betrayal, the horror of DIY abortion, mixed race sexual relationships.
I guess I think Sillitoe is the iconoclast; I just need to stay as true as possible to his vision of working class Nottingham in 1958 and to my idea of exciting theatre.
Perry Fitzpatrick plays Arthur Seaton; will there be shades of Albert Finney in the classic film adaptation, or will this be a very different Arthur?
MD: Perry is grappling with a rich, detailed portrait as provided by Sillitoe. We have never discussed Finney. And I made a decision not to re-watch the film while working on the novel. And I told the actors to avoid it too. What he shares with Finney is the working class authenticity and an edgy instinctive talent. But Perry has two elements of Arthur’s character nailed that were beyond Finney: he’s tall and he’s from Nottingham!!!
Why do you think Alan Sillitoe’s story of working class belligerence in the late 50s still chimes with modern audiences?
MD: Well I guess I don’t know! I’m working-class. I’m belligerent. But I’m 42 years old. What are today’s youth? Lost? Angry? Underpaid?
Arthur resents and fights the system. I’d argue that the system has a firmer hold on all of us than ever and that we’ve seen with the recent UK riots that there is a group of people who feel angry and excluded.
There is a connection – but it’s up to the audience to make it.
Watch Matthew Dunster’s Saturday Night Stage Adaptation Trailer on YouTube.