It’s ironic that the misadventures of Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, should here be brought to the stage by a female adapter and director: Arthur, unreconstructed 1950s man, was never one to get in touch with his female side. Amanda Whittington, whose stage adaptation was first seen two years ago in Nottingham, and Joyce Branagh, directing this joint Harrogate Theatre/Oldham Coliseum production, raise this point themselves in the programme.
Quite deliberately, Whittington has attempted to redress the balance of the famous Albert Finney film and restore the challenging female characters of the novel. To a considerable extent, she succeeds in this version of Arthur’s life-story: work at the bike factory, drinking with his mates, fighting, going fishing and bedding married women, including the wife of his workmate, Jack.
In an adaptation in which one actor plays Arthur and five play multiple parts, three of them are women, uniformly good, switching from Arthur’s fancies to crones to cleaning ladies. Jo Mousley, in particular, is excellent as the most free-spirited of Arthur’s conquests as well as a hard-faced neighbourhood abortionist and officious NCO.
This is all to the good, but leads to the opposite distortion to that of the film. The male world of Arthur is sketchily realised: there are a few not very convincing drinking bouts, but the oppressive regime of the factory has mostly to be taken as read. Interestingly, compared to the many well-individualised female parts, only Christopher Chilton’s sympathetic and trusting Jack registers among the men.
To an extent, the success of any version of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning depends on the portrayal of Arthur and here Oliver Farnworth is capable, intelligent and disciplined, looking the part but neither as funny nor as dangerous as he might be, his Nottingham accent dutifully applied.
Joanna Parker’s designs, Douglas O'Connell’s audio visuals and Matt Downing’s sound all help create the sense of Nottingham in the 1950s, from the recurrent bicycle motifs in the sparse, but atmospheric, set to the well-chosen pop and rock classics that punctuate the action – Michael Holliday’s The Story of My Life the perfect choice for our last view of a chastened Arthur.
The piece moves briskly between the musical memories and manages an impressively clear narrative line given the constant switching between short scenes. It lacks something in substance, though: it’s surprising that an adaptation of a full-length novel should occupy a bare hour-and-a-half of stage time.