The Theatreguide.London Review
Through A Glass Darkly
Almeida Theatre Summer 2010
A stage version of an Ingmar Bergman film was never going to be a bundle of laughs. But this adaptation by Jenny Worton, as directed by Michael Attenborough, proves a surprisingly warm and emotionally involving human drama, far more accessible and engaging than the Swedish filmmaker's signature style.
A thoroughly dysfunctional family is on holiday. Karin has just been released from a mental hospital with a gloomy prognosis for her schizophrenia.
Her doctor husband is loving and protective to a degree she must find suffocating, while her novelist father continues a lifetime of being emotionally absent, hiding in his work from any connection with others, and her younger brother is quite properly lost in his own teenage angst.
In the course of a couple of days Karin will relapse while the others face their inability to help her.
Like I said, not a bundle of laughs. But, after a slow start (and before an unfortunate lapse into soppy sentiment in the very last moments), the bulk of the play shows us four very real people, all of them flawed but none villainous, coming face to face with their own limitations and coping with the self-discoveries as well as they can.
At the centre of the play are two different but equally well-written and well-played sequences. In one, the husband and father address, as clearly and honestly as they can, Karin's prospects, their feelings, their failures in the past and their responsibilities for the future.
In the hands of director Attenborough and actors Justin Salinger and Ian McElhinney, every minute of the scene rings true and we believe that the men are wrestling with things that deeply matter.
And soon after, Karin, feeling a relapse approaching, takes what she feels is her last chance to explain what is happening to her, describing to her brother what the voices in her head tell her and how beautiful and love-filled is the alternative reality they are drawing her toward.
Actress Ruth Wilson captures us with the character's total belief in this vision and makes us understand its appeal, particularly in its contrast to the pains of our reality.
(One way in which the adaptation falters is in underplaying the religious dimension of Karin's madness, as the possibility that she might see God in this other place comes across as just an added bonus to the central attraction of its loving warmth, rather than as the essence of her ecstasy.)
Ruth Wilson makes us continually aware of the pathos of Karin's madness while also letting us understand both its attraction and the conscious intelligence with which she is facing what is to her a choice.
Justin Salinger captures the dilemma of a man doing all the wrong things for the right motives, while Ian McElhinney shows us a very limited man who would honestly like to be better than he is capable of, and Dimitri Leonidas generates sympathy as the boy being asked to look outside himself at the very point in his life when he should be allowed to be self-absorbed.
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