Scenes from a Marriage

Scenes from a Marriage
By Joanna Murray-Smith. Queensland Theatre. Director: Paige Rattray. Playhouse, QPAC. 11 Nov – 3 Dec 2017

Ingmar Bergman’s television mini-series Scenes from a Marriage was said to have been the cause of almost doubling the Scandanavian divorce rates after it was shown in 1973. Over 40 years later his vivid dissection of an emotionally barren and corrosive marriage still packs a powerful punch.

This stage adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith, the first in Australia, springs from a 2011 Belgrade, Coventry production directed by Trevor Nunn. Its themes of a husband’s mid-life crisis and the devastating void that is left for the wife when he walks out mirror those of Murray-Smith’s own play Honour.

Divorce lawyer Marianne (Marta Dusseldorp) and neurologist Johan (Ben Winspear) are first seen being interviewed by a women’s magazine journalist about their happy and enduring marriage. Johan’s facetious and patronising put-downs clearly irritate Marianne, who tries to put a positive spin on their coupling for the article. What follows is a series of “scenes” that show all is not well in the Garden of Eden, until his out-of-the-blue outburst late in Act 1 that he has fallen in love with a 23-year old and it leaving for Paris in the morning.

Johan’s callousness towards their marriage and their children is suck-in-your-breath-with-horror blunt. It’s brutally realistic and Winspear is brilliant in portraying the narcissistic Johan. He plays smug conceit with such an attractive allure you almost forgive him for his raw brutality.

Opposite him as Marianne, real-life wife Dusseldorp was a perfect match. A woman frustrated and ambivalent about marriage, especially when pregnancy rears its head again, whose disintegration is palpable when she discovers her marriage is crumbling.

A powerhouse on-stage, their coupling as Marianne and Johan brought the most honest and intimate performances of the year. They were the play.

Christen O’Leary and Hugh Parker were excellent as best friends Katrina and Peter whose toxic relationship killed the dinner party vibe, whilst Loani Arman attacked her journalistic mission with zeal.

David Fleischer’s Scandanavian noir design, with its touch of Ikea, was austere and minimalist, whilst Kelly Ryall’s music nicely evoked the Nordic landscape. Paige Rattray’s sharply observed direction did Murray-Smith proud.

Scenes from a Marriage never lets us off the hook. It’s confronting, emotionally challenging and a must see.

Peter Pinne      

Photographer: Rob Maccol       

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