Through a Glass Darkly, Almeida Theatre, London
Friday 18 June 2010
A few years ago, the Almeida produced a triumphant theatrical make-over of the Dogme movie Festen, but I'm afraid I cannot report a comparable success for its attempt to recreate in stage terms the 1961 Ingmar Bergman classic Through a Glass Darkly. The production is manifestly a high-minded labour of love by director Michael Attenborough and writer Jenny Worton. But when it's divorced from the bleak, brooding brilliance of Bergman's cinematography, with its harrowed close-ups and haunting footage of Faro, the story is left looking as dubious and muddled as it is portentous.
During their holiday on a remote Baltic island, a family comes unravelled as the twentysomething daughter, Karin, spirals into schizophrenic madness. Torn between two worlds, she's increasingly drawn to a derelict attic where, she adamantly believes, she will be granted a privileged encounter with God. We watch the effect of her decline on her helplessly devoted but ineffectual doctor-husband (Justin Salinger), her troubled, pubertal brother (Dimitri Leonidas) and her Trigorin-like novelist father (Ian McElhinney), a disappointed, would-be genius whose monitoring, clinical detachment and furtive desire to exploit her plight for his ingenious but empty fiction are deemed to be part of the problem.
Heartbreaking in her tender, desperate bids to find common ground with this patriarch, and alarming in her unpredictable leaps into paranoid terror and religious rapture, Ruth Wilson compellingly conveys Karin's mounting panic at her divided loyalties. But the piece wants, irresponsibly, to have it both ways with this character. On the one hand, her condition is shown to be the direct result of a genetic illness (the adaptation lays added stress on her deceased mother's struggles with schizophrenia); on the other, we're allowed to form the RD Laingian impression that her madness may have opened up a personal hotline to the divine. Bergman has invested the novelist father (an insufficiently intense McElhinney) with some of his own guilt-ridden angst. In a typically clunky expansion of the movie dialogue, he berates himself for trying to twist metaphysical meaning out of Karin's suffering, but the play itself is playing the same dodgy game.
To 31 July (020 7359 4404)
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