They won’t be upset. In fact, after watching this play, they’ll probably thank you for it, realising they’ve avoided the years of misery that lie ahead and that a faithful pet and a TV dinner for one can be surprisingly comforting.
Adapted by Joanna Murray-Smith from Ingmar Bergman‘s play, in turn, based on his own six-part 1973 telly series, which, when it was broadcast, doubled the divorce rate in Sweden. Presumably those who stayed together didn’t tune in.
Johan (Mark Bazeley), a smug, slightly swaggering academic – who wears questionable boxer shorts that are enough to finish off any relationship – is married to Marianne (Olivia Williams), a divorce lawyer with a healthy interest in Tupperware. We first meet them being interviewed by a fawning journalist who asks them a string of absurdly vague questions such as “How would you define yourself?”. Her inquisition reveals that everything is perfect in their world, that they’re blissfully happy and what a rubbish journalist she is.
Or maybe the hack just doesn’t possess the gift of foresight. If this couple were happy there wouldn’t be a play. What unfolds over the years is loss of respect and the ability to communicate, betrayal, alienation and less predictably, violence.
On a brighter note, it seems a marital breakdown can also improve your interior design skills. This couple have terrible furniture and nick-nacks initially and an even dodgier taste in art. Phil became mesmerised by a painting in their home, presumably purchased by Johan from the railings of Hyde Park. After the bust up Marianne’s new art and redesign is a marginal improvement, that’s if you take 60 Minute Makeover as your inspiration.
And like that TV programme we also get to see a huge amount of furniture shifting which occurs between each of the 15 scenes as home movies and snap shots are projected over the stage to remind us of their happier past and distract us from Pickfords going about their business below. Fortunately Ms Williams isn’t required to do any of the furniture-wrangling herself. Director Trevor Nunn presumably took note of an earlier Whinger post and employed stagehands for the removal business. They know who to thank.
Williams and Bazeley deliver blazing performances and are superbly credible in roles which occasionally stretch credulity, and have as much chemistry as any episode of Breaking Bad, which is a lot. Easy to believe they’re a couple, though why do they only possess one chopping board/tray between their two different properties? Did they buy a job lot at IKEA?
Largely a two-hander, despite a string of other characters played believably, yet unbelievably, by only 3 actors (Shane Attwooll, Melanie Jessop and Aislinn Sands). Adam, who accompanied Phil, expected more actors on stage for the curtain call, but then he is perhaps more easily deceived, has a more tenuous grasp on the economics of theatre or can’t spot a bad wig when he sees one. Possibly all three.
And if it all sounds exhausting and gruellingly uncomfortable viewing as you stumble through spotting resonances in your own relationship, there is plenty of acerbic humour to ease you through the pain, especially as the relationship goes into a nosedive.
Not for the faint-hearted, those who cannot forgive infidelity and definitely not one for Brian Sewell.
Fortuitously, Williams and Bazeley also prove marvellously adept in their unfolding of a sofa bed. Study this very closely. If you attend with your partner it could prove useful information.