Theatre review: Through A Glass Darkly

Posted on: 22 June 2010 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews Michael Attenborough’s masterly production of Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning 1961 film Through A Glass Darkly at the Almeida Theatre.

The transition from screen to stage is not always a happy on as good films do not necessarily make good plays. But I am pleased to report that this is not the case with Michael Attenborough’s masterly production of Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning 1961 film Through A Glass Darkly (Almeida Theatre), which has been adapted for the stage by Jenny Worton.

Having just been discharged from a mental asylum, where she was treated for schizophrenia, Karin has gone on holiday to a bleakly beautiful island off the coast of Sweden with her much older husband Martin, her novelist father David, and her brother Max.

Initially she is calm, unruffled, and indeed quite affable. But it's not long before her anxieties and the old demons return. Although she is off her medication, she finds it difficult to get to sleep, suffering hallucinations and hearing whispers and birdsong in the deep silence of the island. In her kaleidoscope internal world the boundaries between different realities blur and shift.

Her family, meanwhile, struggle over the best way to help her. But as events spiral out of control, Karin realises that she must take command of her own destiny.

This is said to be the only adaptation of Through A Glass Darkly that was personally approved by Bergman himself and in Michael Attenborough’s spare, stark production - the set merely comprises a long table that doubles as a bed and some chairs - the focus is put firmly on the intimacy of the protagonist’s relationships. A skilful mixture of music and sound further contribute to the atmosphere of almost claustrophobic intensity.

But it is Ruth Wilson’s stunning performance as the troubled Karin, a young woman both fragile and fierce, torn between two worlds, that makes this such an absorbing experience. She is strongly supported by Justin Salinger as her caring but ineffectual doctor husband Martin, Ian McElhinney as her clinically detached father David, and Dimitri Leonidas as her anguished younger brother Max.

In all then a poignant, powerful play that marks another triumph for this small but enterprising North London theatre.

By Laurence Green

Where: Almeida Theatre

When: Plays until 31 July 2010

Box Office: 020 7359 4404

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