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A CurtainUp London London Review
Through A Glass Darkly

Birds are somehow terrifying because they are above everything and can see what we are doing down here. — Karin
Through A Glass Darkly
Ruth Wilson as Karin
(Photo: Simon Annand)
Ruth Wilson is one of the most interesting actors of her generation. Noticed by Stephen Poliakoff and cast in his Capturing Mary series, she was also a memorable Jane Eyre and in 2010 she won the Olivier for the Best Supporting Actress in a play for her performance as Blanche's sister Stella in Streetcar at the Donmar Warehouse. She has the most expressive eyebrows, brilliant blue eyes and a mouth so mobile that her range of facial expression seems that she was cut out for acting.

The theatre programme tells us that Ingmar Bergman's film Through A Glass Darkly was based on his marriage to Kabi Laretei and his life with her. She was Bergman's third wife, a concert pianist. He was married five times. In the play, Karin (Ruth Wilson) is married to a doctor Martin (Justin Salinger) and has come on holiday to the island to spend time with her novelist father David (Ian McElhinney) and her teenage brother Max (Dimitri Leonidas). Ruth expresses the wish that this should be a perfect holiday. At the beginning of the play Martin and David discuss Karin's illness and the probability of it recurring. Later we learn that Karin's illness is schizophrenia and that this is an inherited mental illness from her mother.

The production starts with a swimming scene on the beach, the mist of the cinematography of the original, steamy here as rising dry ice. This is such a wordy piece it made the one hour thirty five seem much, much longer. All the angst of the teenage brother discovering his sexuality and peeping through doors at his half clothed sister or reading girlie magazines inside a Latin text book fails to row my boat. Justin Salinger is normally a joy to watch but his character here is nondescript. The family disappointment at the father, only just having returned home from a few months abroad, escaping at the earliest opportunity just made me sigh with a lack of interest. It just seemed so relentlessly Scandinavian, under the surface and non expressed. As the father goes out the door he momentarily shakes with sobs, recovering his composure almost immediately.

David carelessly leaves his diary so that Karin finds it and reads the discussion her husband has had with her father about her illness. The discovery of Martin's syringes hidden in his shirt drawer confirms for Karin that Martin does not expect her to pass this holiday without a relapse. There are dream sequences when Karin gets up in the night and hears voices or sees birds as omens. Later she switches between shouting rancour and just as suddenly crumples into tears.

Justin Salinger's Martin seems helpless in the face of his wife's illness and frustrated at her lack of interest in sex. The father is selfish or already worn out by living through schizophrenia with his sick, now dead, wife and the brother may also have inherited the illness. It is all so depressing. I suppose the good news is that this is the only film Bergman had given permission to be dramatised!

Tom Scutt's set is pale wood and simple, revolving for the dream sequence. The cut away boat as David and Martin discuss Karin on their way to the mainland looked strange in the middle of all this realism. I see that an earlier note had listed Andrew Upton, Cate Blanchett's husband as the writer of the adaptation but that now it is credited to Jenny Worton. The director Michael Attenborough has given us a literal staging of the Bergman film.

The ending has extra bright epiphanic lighting as the ambulance helicopter arrives, fulfilling the bird prophesy and the doctor makes use of the hypodermic. It is all so horribly inevitable. And not even the brilliance of Ruth Wilson could lift the play for me so that there was anything resembling a dramatic crescendo.

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Through A Glass Darkly
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Adapted by Jenny Worton
Directed by Michael Attenborough

Starring: Ruth Wilson, Justin Salinger
With: Ian McElhinney, Dimitri Leonidas
Design: Tom Scutt
Lighting: Colin Grenfell
Sound and Music: Dan Jones
Running time: One hour 35 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking until 31st July 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th June 2010 performance at the Almeida, Almeida Street, London N1 1TA (Tube: The Angel)

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