Toneelgroup Amsterdam are no strangers to the Barbican. In 2009 they made a splash when Roman Tragedies delivered three Shakespeare plays in six hours with live projection of the drama, and food outlets scattered around the stage.
Another of the specialities of the company’s director, Ivo van Hove, is to re-imagine classic films for stage. On this occasion, he brings a version of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage (1973), which explores the relationship of husband and wife Johan and Marianne over a 20-year period, and reveals how this apparently perfect couple can neither live with nor without each other.
Van Hove’s approach does not so much feature theatre in the round as in the triangle. He uses three sets of actors to portray the couple at different ages. In the first half each duo performs their 40-minute scenario three times over, while the other two do the same. In this way, the audience is channelled into one of three makeshift auditoriums at the start, and then rotated. The intimacy of the performance areas hands the scenes a cinematographic air by ensuring the emotions are viewed in close-up, and the continuity in the mannerisms adopted by the performers suggests that we really could be looking at the same people at different stages in their lives.
After the interval, all three couples interact simultaneously on the Barbican theatre stage. This illustrates the cyclical, almost inevitable, nature of the fallings in and out, although seeing the Johans sometimes interact with the Mariannes from other ages also suggests that had each occurrence been in another time and place things might have worked out differently.
The difficulty, however, is that in overlapping the scenarios to reveal the synergies, we lose the narrative arc in which so much of the film’s emotional interest is still vested. Scenes From A Marriage is frequently compelling, but it suffers slightly from trying to advance through theatre a film that, with its emphasis on intimate scenes and lengthy dialogue, is fairly theatrical to begin with.
Until 17 November in the Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS beginning at 19.15. Tickets (£30): 020 7638 8891 or visit the Barbican website.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from the Barbican press team.