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Posts Tagged ‘Ingmar Bergman’

This is the second time this week that I’ve seen a stage adaptation of a film I haven’t seen. This one is Ingmar Bergman’s autobiographical three-hour film, which was also a five-hour TV series, adapted by Stephen Beresford, best known for The Last of the Hausmans at the NT and the screenplay for the film Pride. It’s an everyday tale of theatre folk in Sweden, well at least initially.

In the first act, we’re with the theatrical Ekdahl family, theatre owners and performers. Husband and wife Oscar and Emilie, Oscar’s mother Helena, brothers Carl and Gustav and their wives Alma and Lydia, Gustav & Lydia’s daughter Petra and Fanny and Alexander themselves, Oscar & Emilie’s children. We’re onstage, backstage and at home in what seems to be an idyllic world, until Oscar dies suddenly. There was plenty of character development, but not enough story in this first part and I went into the interval a touch underwhelmed.

The second act is very dark, as Emilie marries the widowed Bishop, a frightfully stern bully into whose austere and joyless home Emilie, Alexander and Fanny arrive. His sister Henrietta is unwelcoming, fearing her loss of power in charge of the home. Alexander is a bit of a fantasist and gets on the wrong side of the Bishop very quickly, resulting in brutal punishment. Emilie, by now pregnant, wants to leave, but the law and societal conventions prevent this.

In the third act, with the help of Oscar’s brothers and Helena’s friend Issak and his nephew Aaron, they plot to free them all from the Bishop’s tyranny. These latter two parts are much more satisfying and feel almost Dickensian, sweeping along at a fast pace, drawing you in to these characters lives. I haven’t seen much of director Max Webster’s work, but his staging here is impressive, helped by Tom Pye’s excellent set, Laura Hopkins’ lovely costumes and atmospheric music by Alex Baranowski, played live on piano and cello.

It’s a tribute to Kevin Doyle’s performance that there was palpable hatred in the audience for the evil Bishop. Penelope Wilton is wonderful as a seasoned thespian and the head of the Ekdahl family. I loved Catherine Walker, an actress who hasn’t been on my radar before, as Emilie and it was great to see Lolita Chakrabarti again in a pair of contrasting roles as Alma and Henrietta. Jonathan Slinger’s role was relatively small, but he almost stole the show when the Ekdahl brothers confront the Bishop in the third act – the whole audience were willing him on. The actors playing Fanny & Alexander were brilliant, in what are big roles for child actors, especially Alexander.

It was a slow burn at first but it won me over, oozing quality in every department.

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I’m fond of Shakespeare but not that fond of Hamlet. It always seems overlong and ponderous and I find it hard to believe in or be moved by it. Give me a more cracking yarn like Richard III any time. Yet somehow, its hard to resist re-visiting it – maybe to find what I haven’t yet found or maybe to see how an actor rises to the challenge of that pinnacle for a leading man.

My first one was Roger Rees and my second Kenneth Branagh; both deeply introverted and neither RSC productions really did it for me. Then there was highly strung Daniel Day-Lewis on the same stage (before he had his breakdown, withdrew and was replaced by a dying Ian Charlston) and cool Adrian Lester at the Young Vic. A couple of adventures followed with Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish Hamlet and Ninagawa’s Japanese Hamlet. After a long break, I started again as I couldn’t resist Jude Law or David Tennent, both of whom turned in very good interpretations but neither production was totally satisfying. I regret not giving Simon Russell Beale and Ben Wilshaw a crack.

One of the pleasures of going to the National in recent years has been to see the range and growth of Rory Kinnear, but I thought it might be too soon for him to tackle Hamlet. Well, I was certainly wrong there, as it was the most interesting, intelligent and real Hamlet of them all – I actually cared about what this man was going through for probably the first time.

What helps is a production which creates a believable timeless police state where everyone is watching everyone else. This brings a plausibility to the story and adds an excitement which propels the play along. What also helps is a faultless supporting cast. Patrick Malahide is such a good Claudius that I became tense every time he came on stage. Dame Clare Higgins creates a highly original stilletto-heeled shallow gullible monster, drink almost always in hand. You could really believe in and were touched by Ruth Negga’s journey as Ophelia. The production didn’t seem at all imbalanced by understudy James Pearse standing in for David Calder as Polonius.

I’ve liked Nicholas Hytner’s other Olivier Shakespeares – Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V – but I liked this most of all. Vicky Mortimer’s design is important in creating this believable world and facilitates the pace, energy and excitement. I also liked the use of sound to create atmosphere.

So, the most satisfying Hamlet so far and one that will no doubt encourage me to continue exploring the play – somehow, I doubt I will be able to resist Michael Sheen at the Young Vic next year!

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Yet another film I haven’t seen ends up on stage. This time, Ingmar Bergman’s study of a family’s attempts to cope with mental illness within it.

The husband, a doctor,  just tries to deal with the practical implications and consequences. The teenage brother is scared; he just isn’t mature enough to deal with it at all. The father, who is reliving what happened to his wife, has a complex bag of emotional responses that include running away, intellectual curiosity and hopelessness……and that’s it really; yet somehow, it makes for a compelling and fascinating 90 minutes.

It speeds along at quite a pace in a way that draws you in without seeming rushed;  it doesn’t waste words but doesn’t linger risking your attention or your patience. Michael Attenborough’s staging is simple yet atmospheric (helped by superb use of music and sound by the chap behind Kursk). The performances are all excellent and Ruth Wilson is yet again positively mesmerizing.

I’m not going to analyse why I found it a very satisfying evening, I just did!

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