Reviews Dublin Published 19 November 2015

Through a Glass Darkly

Project Arts Centre ⋄ 12th November - 5th December 2015

But then shall I know.

Chris McCormack
Credit: Fiona Morgan

Credit: Fiona Morgan

Through the camera lens of his 1961 film, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s expertise in modern theatre makes an impressive transference: a bourgeois family on Chekhovian retreat, a Strindbergian blurring of dream and reality, the Ibsenite unravelling of characters’ psychologies. The ingredients, distilled in Jenny Worton’s adaptation and elegantly staged by Annie Ryan for The Corn Exchange, add evidence that Through a Glass Darkly could easily be mistaken for a lost classic of the canon.

Released from an asylum after treatment for schizophrenia, Karin (Beth Cooke) and her family are holidaying on a remote island. Her husband (Peter Gaynor), dejected from his unreturned affections, confides in her often-absent father (Peter Gowen) that the condition is incurable.

The vacation proves a prison, as Karin condemns the nature of holidays: “They’re supposed to be relaxing but in fact they’re just lumps of time without any distractions”. Desperate for escape, she tempts her brother’s (Colin Campbell) sexuality, and beyond that: the barrier between realities.

Ryan patiently paces the action as if directing an art house film. Figures drift pithlessly off Sarah Bacon’s grey set, a sober stage but for an abstract painting that when hit by Sinéad Wallace’s lighting sparks as waves from the ocean, the lines of a sunset, and misty torrents of rainfall. Such alchemy, with the gentle strings of Denis Clohessy’s music, suggests change in an otherwise dull world.

Berman’s characters are all taking on this mute existence. Gaynor’s humble performance as a spouse trying to make his marriage work oscillates achingly between hope and disappointment. Campbell’s teenage playwright might cut his teeth on the avant garde like Chekhov’s Konstantin in The Seagull if he wasn’t so desperate for his artist father’s approval. Instead, in Gowen’s skilled projection, the lively parent is wracked by insecurity.

Amidst all these failures, only Karin herself seems to stand a chance, as the mesmeric Cooke projects moments of confusion like poetry towards the ether. Physical discipline is a calling card of The Corn Exchange but here is only overt during curious trespasses: the shaping of Karin like an arrow as she leans over a table to snoop through her father’s bag; a late-night wander out of bed to pass beautifully beyond the threshold of the world.

With shifting scenery, sliding walls and spectral illuminations, Ryan gradually suspends us in a kind of half-dream, where, astonishingly, Karin’s illness might be the key to her liberation. After all, the more punishing sickness seems to pervade human living itself.

It sets up a startling one-two that violently jolts us awake, to the agonising scream of a devastated individual. From that it’s hard to shake off the spell of Bergman’s dark drama, which takes its title from Corinthians, meaning to hold up a poor reflection. Are we to assign that to Karin, with her perception obscured by illness, or to the ordinary people surrounding her whose visions fail to take shape against a grey existence? It’s curious to think that to release our hold on reality is to possibly transcend it.

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Chris McCormack is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Through a Glass Darkly Show Info


Produced by The Corn Exchange

Directed by Annie Ryan

Written by Ingmar Bergman, adapted by Jenny Worton

Cast includes Beth Cooke, Peter Gaynor, Peter Gowen, Colin Campbell

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