Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe’s début book about a misogynistic and disillusioned working class man in 1950s Britain, was an exposé of rage and rebellion which shocked a nation.
It arrived in, 1958, with a raft of other novels, plays and films, written by and about the country’s angry young men who, post-war, realised that there was often no escape from the drudgery and poverty of class and situation.
Amanda Whittington’s stage adaptation opened at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester, last night and, for all his Commie-spouting, philandering and drink-fuelled aggression, the play’s protagonist, Arthur Seaton, proved to also be a bit of a gentleman.
Almost through the first act, and at the play’s most powerful and controversial scene, and actor Patrick Knowles brought the drama to an abrupt halt when a woman collapsed in the front stalls.
He uttered those immortal lines “Is there a doctor in the house?” and was rewarded with two health practitioners in the audience who went to her aid.
After an enforced interval SNSM resumed and, at the curtain, Knowles informed everyone that the lady was recovering at home.
Overall this was a slick and stylish production in the hands of a charismatic leading man with the power to hold the whole story together (even with the unexpected interruption).
This is very much Seaton’s tale and Patrick Knowles gave a commanding performance in what is, essentially, a monologue from the central character as he drunkenly stumbles through the tedium of his life.
Sillitoe used much of his own experiences for the play. Like Seaton he worked in the Raleigh factory in Nottingham and got through the days of drudgery and routine by thoughts of the weekend.
Seaton is a serial shagger. His idea of a good time is to blow his £14 a week wages down Nottingham’s pubs and working men’s clubs on a Saturday night, have it off with his workmate’s wife, and then recover with a quiet bit of fishing on a Sunday.
In-between he rails at life, angry and frustrated at his situation, dreams of leading a revolution, and chats up anything in a skirt.
He gets the amenable Brenda pregnant and she has a back-street abortion (still illegal for another nine years) to prevent her husband, Jack, finding out.
While she recovers the rampant Arthur beds her married sister Winnie while starting a relationship with another girl, Doreen.
SNSM has been described as the original kitchen-sink drama and a slice of social realism.
It is that and more, a rite of passage which sees Seaton resist responsibility and maturity before knuckling under.
Knowles beautifully captures Seaton’s Cock-Of-The-Walk, gobby, attitude as he talks the audience through his situation. He’s rippling with testosterone and menace.
It’s no wonder Gina Isaac’s Brenda falls for him.
Isaac and the remaining cast – Ian Kirby, Hester Arden, Elizabeth Twells and Tim Treslove – play 19 characters between them but ultimately all eyes are on a splendid powerfully-played performance by Patrick Knowles.
Director Tony Casement has created a wonderfully dark production that captures the tension and mood of the time.
I could have done with less smoking though. By the end of the night Knowles was grey-faced and the audience went home with stinging, watery eyes and smelling like they’d spent a night in a working men’s club.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning runs at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester, until May 24.