First Night: Scenes From A Marriage, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
A shocking journey through the cul-de-sac of marriage
Wednesday 16 January 2008
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.
Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 King Salman: Just five days in, Saudi Arabia's new king has already overseen a beheading
- 2 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Presidential optical illusion offers clues to how brain processes faces
- 5 Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Phil Tufnell, Heather Mills and co take to the slopes
Costa Book Awards 2015: H is for Hawk named book of the year
New Ghostbusters movie lands all-female cast with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones
Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures