Prism Sheds Refracted Light On Filmmaker With Dementia

Prism, Richmond Theatre ★★★★☆

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Prism Sheds Refracted Light On Filmmaker With Dementia Prism, Richmond Theatre 4
Photo: Manuel Harlan

Terry Johnson’s Prism provides an illuminating glimpse into the creative but confused mind of Oscar-winning British cinematographer Jack Cardiff. As an elderly man with dementia, he re-lives moments from a career that saw him collaborate with the likes of Powell and Pressburger, Hitchcock and Huston, before becoming a director himself. Known as “the man who made women beautiful”, he also recalls his intimate relationships with screen goddesses such as Dietrich, Hepburn and Monroe.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

In a garage packed with film memorabilia at his home in Buckinghamshire, Jack is supposed to be writing his memoirs, but rather than recording his memories, he is re-enacting them as past and present become jumbled up. In the play's first half, we see his son, wife and carer/amanuensis concerned and frustrated with Jack’s erratic behaviour. But in a brilliant twist at the start of the second half, we view things from his perspective on location in the Congo for the shooting of The African Queen and in a Hollywood studio with those looking after him transformed into film stars.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

First seen at Hampstead Theatre in 2017 and now on tour, Johnson’s own production is both entertaining and elegiac. Tim Shortall’s ingeniously flexible design features luminous photographs of some of the leading ladies Cardiff worked (and perhaps slept) with, as well as works by old masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer who inspired him to “paint with light”. And later we are plunged into the African jungle with Ian William Galloway’s lush video.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Robert Lindsay gives an engagingly charismatic performance as Cardiff, conveying both the charm that endeared him to actresses and the dedication to his craft. Tara Fitzgerald is touching as his ‘forgotten’ wife as well as giving an amusing impression of Katharine Hepburn with whom unreliable narrator Jack may have been in love.

Prism, Richmond Theatre, 1 Little Green, Richmond TW9 1QH. Tickets £13-£52.40, until 19 October 2019.

Last Updated 15 October 2019