‘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
Average User Rating
4.8 / 5
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The play was excellent: great acting from the whole cast, and very well staged. A thoroughly thought-provoking play and a hugely enjoyable evening. Loved the St James theatre complex too--first time I'd been there; hope to go again soon. The major irritation was the huge price premium that Time Out put on the price of the tickets: more than 50% which I regard as unreasonable!!
Compelling and engaging. Great acting and script. Loved the set and the use of the screen as a in-between scenes filler. I had read some negative reviews, so I was a bit worried about seeing it, but not at all disappointing! This play touches on relationship - and general life - issues that I'm sure everyone can relate to, whether you are married or single or otherwise. However, due to the nature of the highly dysfunctional marriage, probably not the best date night entertainment!
Powerful acting on a subject most of us can relate to, delivered in a sensitive and at times humorous way.
I hardly took a breath at times during this astonishing play, performed superbly by the lead characters. An utterly believable and a heartbreaking performance by Williams - she haunts me still. Bazeley is unnervingly attractive in spite of his repellent character which is just how it should be as life is never black and white is it? I thought the cameo performance by Aislinn Sands as Katarina was outstanding - she's fantastic and where has she been hiding? Go see this play. You will laugh as well as cringe and cry. Exellent.
I found the numerous scene changes initially rather annoying as they broke up the flow. However as the production moved on I was so in awe of the performances that a few seconds break ever so often was a light relief to gather my thoughts. Often I have left theatres recently feeling a little let down and underwhelmed. Not after this show though. Two of the best performances I have seen for a long time. The sharp text helps them, but they waste not a single word in their relentless barbed and pointed utterances. It's only a 4 as I never give five stars - but oh so close.
Thirty-somethings should have a health warning about this production - it may change their lives. Or perhaps a certificate of attendance should be required before every marriage. This theatre adaptation of Bergman's script (it started as a television series and became a film) pulls no punches, but it does not exaggerate either. It follows ten years in the marriage of a bright, well-meaning couple - she's a family lawyer, he's a university lecturer. There are laughs and there are tears; there are surprising but credible twists and turns. You are left nodding with recognition. Such an emotional text requires no histrionics but precise and committed playing. Here the two leading actors, Olivia Williams and Mark Bazeley give whole-hearted, intelligent performances which should have them among the annual award winners. The rest of the cast give excellent support. As you would expect from a practised master like Trevor Nunn, the direction is meticulously shaped. This is a show for grown-ups.