by Ingmar Bergman adapted by Joanna Murray-Smith

St James Theatre 12 Palace Street SW1E 5JA To 9 November 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 20min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 264 2140. 0844 264 21400844 264 2140
Review: Carole Woddis 28 September.

Marriage and fist-fight, grippingly performed.
When it comes to iconography, they don’t come much bigger than Ingmar Bergman. And, as Billie Holliday said of her singing, `when I sing it’s part of my life’, so with Bergman, his films are stamped with autobiographical traits.

Starting as a six part TV mini-series, Scenes from a Marriage originally starred Liv Ullmann, one of Bergman’s several female `muses’. A deeply painful, painfully truthful analysis of middle-class love and marriage and its opposite sides of loneliness and hatred, Bergman later turned it into an equally successful film, again starring Ullmann.

Her iridescent presence – and Bergman’s Scandinavian roots – hover palpably over the piece and in particular, the character of Marianne, the lawyer wife whose unfailing generosity towards her academic man-boy husband, Johan, never ceases to amaze.

Whether Joanna Murray-Smith radically shifted the focus, it would be fascinating to have compared Trevor Nunn’s original Marianne – his then wife, Imogen Stubbs, in this adaptation’s premiere at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry five years ago – with the present incumbent, Olivia Williams. In the present version, Marianne seems to have acquired an extra layer of feistiness.

Certainly Williams charts Marianne’s personality with a mesmerising mixture of sensuality and laser-like precision, giving her early side-long glances of doubt and hesitation, carefully nursing her acquiescence into brittle sarcasm until breaking out into full-blooded revolt.

Mark Bazeley too achieves a bravely unsympathetic arc of smugness and complacency before finally rebelling against his well-ordered life with such appalling behaviour it drew amazed gasps even from a metropolitan audience – a reaction that increased when Marianne and Johan succumbed to a bloodily realistic all-fists-flying knock-down brawl.

Nunn’s production is an intriguing amalgam of the bitter, sentimental and profoundly moving. A darkening storyline, cut into fifteen short scenes, is counterpointed by soft-focus `happy family’ videos and Roger Eno’s over-lush cinema-type music.

Carrying it all in a physically and emotionally draining tour de force are Williams and Bazeley, strongly supported by a small cast in thanklessly under-written roles that nonetheless provide the critical social and personal context.

Stage adaptations of films are often a disappointment. This one succeeds beyond all expectations.

Marianne: Olivia Williams.
Johan: Mark Bazeley.
Peter/Arne: Shane Attwooll.
Mrs Palm/Mrs Jacobi: Melanie Jessop.
Katerina/Eva: Aislinn Sands.

Director: Trevor Nunn.
Designer: Robert Jones.
Lighting: Derek Anderson
Original Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound/Music: James Earls-Davis.
Music: Roger Eno.
Fight director: Terry King.

2013-09-30 10:31:41

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