Scenes from a Marriage
Ingmar Bergman, adapted by Joanna Murray-Smith
B2, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
Many eyebrows must have shot skywards when it was announced that Trevor Nunn was to direct a production starring Iain Glen and Imogen Stubbs in the new, 250-seat B2 auditorium at Coventry's rejuvenated Belgrade. How on earth did the theatre do it?
It wasn't only because Sir Trevor started his career at the Belgrade in the early 1960s and was a patron of the recent capital development project.
The Belgrade's artistic director Hamish Glen is Iain Glen's brother and Imogen Stubbs is Lady Nunn, so presumably everything came together without too much upheaval.
Bringing Nunn, Glen and Stubbs together would have been magical enough in an intimate, well-designed, flexible space like B2 whatever the production. But Nunn's choice of Scenes From A Marriage, a classic from Ingmar Bergman who was a distinguished theatre director as well as a cinema giant, simply adds to the excitement.
Scenes From A Marriage began as a six-part serial on Swedish television in 1973 before being turned into a film and later a play.
Bergman was eminently qualified to catalogue the stormy relationship of the central couple in Scenes From A Marriage because he was married five times.
He's written a fascinating, insightful, astute, profound yet sad account of an academic and a lawyer whose search for happiness is often clouded by their not recognising what happiness is.
Joanna Murray-Smith's adaptation would appear to retain all the depth, emotion and wit which Bergman sought to convey.
Glen and Stubbs are simply awesome. They portray a whole range of emotions as their relationship disintegrates over a ten-year period while they struggle to address their true feelings for each other.
They start off as the couple who are on the face of it perfect enough to be chosen for an article for a women's magazine about how they combine their professional lives and bringing up two young girls.
But there are hints that not everything is as it seems. Johan appears too good to be true while Marianne stresses the negatives of happiness rather than extolling how deliriously contented she is with her man.
Without warning Johan confesses he hates Marianne and says she annoys him. Here Iain Glen is brutal in his frankness, almost matter-of-fact in the life-changing statement that he's been having an affair and wants a divorce.
Imogen Stubbs is simply superb as she demonstrates demoralisation, despair, heartbreak and self-guilt at her husband's totally unexpected announcement, worrying about trivialities such as how she will break the news to her cleaning lady.
Both of them develop gradually into complex characters who are comfortable with themselves and find contentment despite their circumstances.
The most compelling scene is one in which they both get drunk and end up in a violent fight over signing the divorce papers. It's both poignant and shockingly realistic as they release years of pent-up frustration and anger.
There are three other actors in Scenes From A Marriage, Dominic Jephcott, Tilly Blackwood and DeNica Fairman. They give competent performances but are hardly allowed to shine in a production which is a tour de force for Glen and Stubbs.
There are a number of scenes which call for furniture stacked on either side to be brought on stage. At the same time videos of how Johan and Marianne's lives have changed in the intervening period are screened on the back wall. The films only occasionally go on too long and there's just the one scene in which furniture-shifting seems pointless. Otherwise it's all handled very slickly.
It's staggering that the Belgrade pulled off the coup of getting Nunn, Glen and Stubbs together for Scenes From A Marriage. The production is just as astonishing. It might not warrant a bigger stage as that might lose its intimacy. It certainly deserves a greater audience.
"Scenes From A Marriage" continues until February 2nd
Reviewer: Steve Orme