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Through A Glass Darkly

Published 17 June 2010

Family holidays can be a tense affair at the best of times, but when the sole woman is suffering from chronic mental illness, her husband just wants to father her, her father has his own artistic concerns and her brother is a bag of teenage hormones, the vacation can only ever be turbulent.

Tom Scutt’s set immediately makes the gathering storm apparent; its walls a scene of grey tempestuousness. From the moment the audience is introduced to the family, as they finish a good-natured swim, the tensions between them, the unspoken concern for Karin and the jostling for position becomes apparent.

The show’s title is taken from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and refers to how, during life, we see God. In the play, it could well be applied to how each character sees reality.

Writer David (Ian McElhinney) lives in a detached state, never able to fully engage, always viewing life from a distance with a thought to his novels. Karin’s egg shell-walking husband Martin (Justin Salinger) refuses to accept the reality of his wife’s condition, and her brother Max (Dimitri Leonidas) views life through the skewed glasses of a teenage boy. Only Karin (Ruth Wilson) accepts her reality, in which voices speak to her and call her to another world.

Wilson, who won a Laurence Olivier Award earlier this year for her supporting performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, dominates the stage with her portrayal of a woman torn in too many directions, flying from childish enthusiasm to fear to exhaustion and, memorably, near orgasmic religious euphoria in a moment. Yet the desperation in the rest of the cast is as painful to view as her realisation of the only way forward.

Within the tragic tale, Jenny Worton’s adaptation of Bergman’s film uses small scenes, rarely between more than two characters, to dig around religion, art, sex and even life’s meaning.

Director Michael Attenborough ensures that the tension rarely drops during the show’s harrowing, provocative, intellectual and affecting 90 minutes.

MA

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