This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub.
Celebrating two decades of theatre-making in Dublin, The Corn Exchange presents Jenny Worton’s adaptation of Through A Glass Darkly by Ingmar Bergman.
Over the course of 24 hours, Karin and her family face the reality that her mental health is unravelling and that their complex unit might not be strong enough to help her. Holidaying on a small island after being recently discharged from psychiatric care, Karin (Beth Cooke) and her husband Martin (Peter Gaynor) are taking some much needed respite with her younger brother Minus (Colin Campbell) and their father David (Peter Gowen). David is a much absent father, overly concerned with his writing and eager to complete his latest work. Minus, sexually frustrated and seeking approval from his father, tries his hand at writing but only to be dismissed by David.
The instant foreshadowing of news of an incoming storm as David and Martin chat on the beach gives an indication of things to come. Likewise, Karin hears a storm warning signal that turns out to be a hallucination. She also experiences olfactory hallucinations that are easily dismissed at the time but that slowly combine in the realisation that Karin’s mental health is rapidly declining. This dark family drama goes beyond the obvious issues at hand and explores the relationships people have with each other and themselves, as well as an alleged high power. Karin finds herself trapped in a between-ness, where whatever road she chooses ultimately leads to the same destination.
Worton’s adaptation remains truthful to Bergman’s original narrative, keeping the tormented heart of the storyline intact. The dichotomy of choice that faces the family members provides them with a limited amount of extreme outcomes; sanity or insanity, love or hate, none of which will provide a satisfactory resolve for any of them. Where Worton verves from the original is in the major incident between Karin and Minus, which is only alluded to on the screen but made overt on the stage. Conversely, Karin’s vision of God does not take the form of a spider as it does in the film, with Worton’s approach being more subtle and evocative
A simple greyish set (by Sarah Bacon) of sliding panels and minimal props beautifully portrays the Nordic landscape and tradition, evoking a sense of place as well as emotion. The colour itself lies between black and white, light and dark, like Karin, trapped between. This is carried through in the Scandinavian stylised costumes, which are perfunctory and tonal. Lighting design by Sinéad Wallace echoes the turmoil of mind for Karin and her family. The stark bright of the Nordic sky contrasts against the early morning hours of sleeplessness as the scenes unfold in tandem with Karin unravelling. Of particular note, sound and music (Denis Clohessy) stands out as being elemental in this tragic piece. The near constant sea sound gently penetrates the entire 90 minute running time, soft but omnipresent, and then rises in a crescendo when the rain eventually falls upon Karin and the island.
Ryan’s direction ensures that this bleak story holds on to the vital life force that is inherent in Karin’s struggle of between-ness. While remaining dark, this production is full of zeal for life and the changes that the characters strive for. Through a Glass Darkly is excellently brought to life by the brilliant cast under Ryan. Needless to say, Cooke is the star of the show and, while her performance throughout is admirable, her portrayal of Karin’s final steps on the path towards her demise is absolutely haunting.
Those familiar with the story of Through A Glass Darkly, or with Bergman at all, will know that this is no heart-warming family drama. The brutality of the tale being told, in conjunction with the superb cast and high production values, results in an exquisite but emotionally draining experience. The audience’s psyche is confronted, much like Karin and her family, with a reality that it may not care to embrace.
Writer: Ingmar Bergman
Adaptor: Jenny Worton
Director: Annie Ryan
Runs until 5 December 2015 at Project Arts Centre, Dublin