Friday 31 January 2020

Persona @ Riverside Studios

Persona, Riverside Studios

This theatrical adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's Persona opens the newly refurbished Riverside Studios in West London. Where the theatre is snazzy and futuristic, this opening is decidedly arthouse.

Bergman's 1966 film is a psychological drama, his style the epitome of art cinema. He aimed to make a poem in images with his tale of two women - a nurse and her patient - who move to a remote part of Sweden and explore their identities. It doesn't quite translate to the stage, however.

The play, adapted by Paul Schoolman (who also plays the narrator), certainly has a pensive, mournful mood. Yet the various dialogues don't quite hang together into a cohesive narrative, instead becoming separate disparate conversations. The inclusion of the narrator character doesn't manage to bring structure, so the story feels more obtuse than poetic.

Where film brings poetry through imagery and editing, on stage Persona falls flat. The use of a large screen does provide moments of beauty though, and in the role of nurse Alma, Alice Krige is a captivating presence. Still, the actors are too quiet and the action too distant for us to feel the required intimacy of the piece.

What, initially, elevates the piece is the use of the Earth Harp, played by William Close. This novel instrument is installed on the stage with long strings that cascade over the audience like threads. Close pulls on the strings, rather than plucking, for a sound almost akin to an organ; it adds plenty of eerie drama to the stage. Yet with only a small number of strings the instrument has a limited melodic range, so the accompaniment soon becomes repetitive.

At times impenetrable, at others confusing, Persona is a bewilderingly abstract production that ultimately rings hollow.


Watch: Persona runs at the Riverside Studios until 23rd February.

Photo: Pamela Raith