Should you make a play just ‘cos?
This is the question, although phrased far more eloquently, that Kevin Jackson poses in his review of Simon Stone’sFace to Face, which has just opened at STC.
"Now, if I was having a dinner party, (wherever), and had Mr Stone, Upton and Bergman as guests, who would I want to talk about FACE TO FACE with, do you think? Whose problem solving would be of most interest?
Which one is regarded as a genius?
For, as far as problem solving goes, based around the Bergman screenplay, by Mr Stone and Upton:
- When did you last see a show with only furniture in a black box, wheeled on and off by stage crew?
- When did you last see a white box, lit with blaring blue/white forensic colour? (Set and Lighting Design by Nick Schlieper).
- When did you last see a glass wall between you and the actors, requiring them to be microphoned?
- When did you last see said box, fly up into the ‘heavens’, and hover just above the actors?
- When did you last see a set of mono-chromatic costumes looking like our own clothes? (Costume Design by Alice Babidge).
- When did you last see a good film actress attempt to play a leading role in the theatre, and not quite get there? (The film, by the way, starred Liv Ullmann, and she was nominated for the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Actress, 1976).
- When did you last see some actors more often used as set or furniture movers in a performance than actually acting?
- Is the choice of this Sydney Theatre scale the wise choice for this work? The intimacy of the journey content and the possibilities of the acting could be better achieved in say, Wharf 1, better, Yes? Or, No? Or, was it just for the possibilities of the design pyrotechnics, that guided the choice of venue?
- Now, do any of you remember either of the STC’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s A WOMAN IN MIND (two of them, indeed), or, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISSOCIA by Anthony Neilson (other plays concerning the mental breakdown of a member of the female sex)? Familiar territory, yes? The Neilson play, especially interesting and contemporary.
- So, when were you last bored in the theatre, with a grave sense of deja vu? A deja vu of content and production design techniques?
- I wonder, do you think this production might be registering an artistic fatigue on the part of Mr Stone? FACE TO FACE is the fourth major production of his we have seen this year: THYESTES, STRANGE INTERLUDE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN. An olympian output, indeed. Exhausting.
(H)ire or purchase the Ingmar Bergman film (I bought it at TITLE on Crown St for $35.00). When I got home from the performance at the Sydney Theatre, I watched the film. There had to be more to this famous screenplay than what we saw in 90 odd minutes of playwriting adaptation, surely? There just had to be. The film is some 136 minutes long. And this is adapted from a 4 hour television production !
There was something more. Wonderfully more. In the real sense of, wonder = to marvel at; to be excited by what is a strange and surprising viewpoint; to a feeling of surprised or puzzled interest, tinged with a wide-eyed admiration.
The film is a genuine expression of a genius concerned with the observation of the loneliness of mankind and the bravery of man, in the figure of Jenny, a psychiatrist, in the midst of a breakdown, that brings her face to face with herself, and with her intellectual/emotional wrestling with the contemplation of the big issues of love and death, in the midst of trying to live through her life choices, resulting in the final realisation, that “love surrounds everything, even death”. It is harrowing but majesterial in its ability to move one.
This adaptation of the Bergman screenplay by Simon Stone and Andrew Upton diminishes the ambitions and successes of the Bergman creativity. There is much excising of character and situations and observations. Where Mr Stone and Upton seemed to be occupied with design wonders and theatrics, of a black and white kind, Mr Bergman focused on complex storytelling and intimacies. The saga of Jenny was reflected through parallel stories of other characters’ stories - the film has a density of experience in its telling. Every design and theatrical gesture, in the film, were integral to the development of Jenny’s and her extended world’s story, not a demonstration of directorial cleverness. Content and theme relevancies in the film, were of resonant universal vibrations and observances, incorporating an almost religious breadth of vision. The Bergman original, in the Mr Upton & Stone, is reduced to the relative banalities of a virtual linear narrative of breakdown and dream, without any great dimensional power or sense of awe. Essentially, in my experience, simply linear. Almost, a “reductio ad absurdum”. The direct comparison of the hospital dream sequence in the film and here on the Sydney Theatre stage, for example, reveals the contrasting imaginations and theatrics of the writers and directors of these two different FACE TO FACE experiences. The Bergman integrities are richer, deeper, demandingly confronting, and ultimately humbling, in a virtuosic way. One embraces the condition of being human in the face of the world we exist in, face to face. One is not bored with simplistic representations and surface acting, that, comparatively, I experienced, in the theatre.
Compare and contrast for yourself.
Why would I not choose to see Bergman’s solutions over those of Mr Stone and Upton? I have. I have watched the film twice this week, so blown away by the greatness of the film, and the performances, was I. If you can still choose, I do not believe there is any life gain in attending to the Sydney Theatre Company production. Indeed, Simon Stone and Andrew Upton, these two “theatre-tinkerers” have created a grim piece of hackery that does not add to, or, even tell anywhere near the profundity of the Bergman. Bergman has done, as Cate and Andrew have predicted, in their Artistic Director’s notes, “a terrific job”. And, for certain, the two contemporary artists, here in Sydney, were not influenced by any of the choices of the genius, writer-directer, Ingmar Bergman. They had not the same imaginative scope, it seems. More’s the pity, I reckon.
Why do it then? Because, they can, I guess.
So why see it, then, at the theatre, when the film is so much better in every way, and is available, in your own living room? You can, you know.”
Interesting, KJ. Very interesting.