‘Hell is somewhere where no-one believes in solutions any more,’ declares Johan at one point in this elegant, troubling dissection of a couple in the throes of marital breakdown. Yet what’s so terrifying about Ingmar Bergman’s script – slickly adapted for stage by Joanna Murray-Smith – is that no-one can quite identify the problem either.
Interviewed in their exquisitely tasteful drawing room at the time of their tenth wedding anniversary, Johan and Marianne cheerfully confess that they epitomise marital smugness. But somehow, like a shark lurking beneath the sea’s surface, dissatisfaction casts its fatal shadow and ends up dragging them down.
When Bergman’s ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ first appeared as a TV mini-series in 1973, it was blamed for sending Swedish divorce rates soaring. Yet it was written in an era where sexual liberation and women’s empowerment were still relatively recent phenomena – and as such was as much a symptom of what was happening to modern marriage as a cause.
Forty years later – not least thanks to two powerful, compelling performances at the heart of Trevor Nunn’s tightly choreographed production – it still asks provocative questions about happiness, monogamy, and each individual’s jagged quest for emotional fulfilment.
Throughout it is nuanced and subtle – a disturbing pas de deux of divorce – where both parties try to dance round each other as responsibly as possible and yet still end up on the emotional dungheap.
As Marianne, a divorce lawyer, Olivia Williams is extraordinary – allowing her emotions to play themselves out to the full through her words and body language, every twitch and smile a subtext to what’s just been said. And while Mark Bazeley’s Johan has the hard task of going from cheerfully repellent arrogance to reprehensible self-pity, he never fails to make the audience utterly immersed in his predicament – the chemistry between him and Williams is pitch perfect.
Despite the abundance of family videos shown, the children rarely feel like anything more than a token issue. Yet this is a fascinating, compelling evening – couples go and see it if you dare.
by Rachel Halliburton