First Night: Scenes From A Marriage, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

A shocking journey through the cul-de-sac of marriage

More than 40 years ago Sir Trevor Nunn began his career at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre. Now he must hardly recognise it. After a two-year closure and a £14m make-over and seamless extension, the complex boasts a splendid new studio space called B2. Remarkably intimate despite its vast height, it represents a stylish addition to the West Midlands cultural landscape.

Nunn has returned to Coventry to direct a cracking adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's play Scenes from a Marriage in B2. These snapshots of a disintegrating relationship, which began life in the 1970s as an apparently unmissable serial on Swedish television, later edited down for cinema release, were adapted as a two-hander for the stage by Bergman himself.

But in this bracing new version by Joanna Murray-Smith some crucial episodes and, indeed, several of the characters from the TV series have been restored.

Where Bergman cast Liv Ullman, mother of one of his children, in the character of the wife, Marianne, Nunn has cast his own wife, Imogen Stubbs. It can't be easy stepping into the shoes of such a consummate psychological actress as Ullman but Stubbs continually defies clichéd expectation.

Her face is more expressive than Ullman's, reacting almost instinctively to each critical moment as well as the many incidental events in between. From her self-deprecatory answers in the glossy magazine interview which introduces us to this cul-de-sac of a marriage, through each shocking revelation and bitter recrimination to the unexpectedly moving outcome, Stubbs paces her performance with infinite care.

Marianne's anguish is palpable when, mid-mouthful of sandwich, she's coolly informed by her husband that he's in love with a younger woman. With cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk, Stubbs appears momentarily paralysed – unable to swallow or breathe, far less speak.

Making Marianne brittle and bright as well as tender and vulnerable, as she stumbles naively through their 20-year relationship, Stubbs is well matched by Iain Glen as her marriage partner, Johan. In many ways Glen's is the harder role as we struggle to understand Johan's ridiculous posturing and emotional detachment. The character's callous exterior and patronising attitude make you flinch, cringe and suck in your breath in horror at his bluntness.

Robert Jones's versatile design, which looks as if it might have come flatpacked from the vast new Ikea store adjacent to the Belgrade, is assembled and changed with props piled on either side of the B2 stage. Each scene is separated by film clips offering brief glimpses of life in the intervening months and years between the couple's often fiery encounters before, during and after their drawn-out divorce.

Nunn's production is all the more powerful for the concentrated performances he draws from all five performers including the roles of the couple's two friends locked in a more obviously mutually destructive marriage, and the middle-aged wife living in hope of a separation. For some, the intense emotional landscape – uncomfortably recognisable and contemporary – may be too bleak in its stark realism. But others will surely find that, with the couple's eventual recognition of what might just be love, these Scenes offer a glimmer of hope.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before