Scenes From A Marriage

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1970s film, Scenes from a Marriage is an intimate portrayal of the struggles facing Johan and Marianne, a seemingly perfect couple, at different stages in their relationship. Ivo von Hove’s startlingly inventive stage adaptation chooses six scenes in the couple’s marriage, exploring them with stunning intimacy.

In the first act, Ivo von Hove divides his audience into three groups, and we sit according to these groups in one of the three scenes, one on stage and two back stage. This dramatic use of the space the Barbican has to offer is just one of many refreshingly creative ingredients in this production. Three sets of couples – representing younger, midlife and older Johan and Marianne – inhabit each of these three scenes. Even before the play has begun, we are invited to view the nerve centre of the production through the glass windows on each of these scenes. We see the cast warmly embrace one another before their deeply moving performances.

von Hove creates a promenade-like experience, where each group sees one scene from one couple before moving on to the next. The result is mesmerising. As one group watches middle age Johan and Marianne hold each other tentatively, another watches older Johan tell Marianne he is leaving her. Marianne’s cries can piercingly be heard by all three groups. The audience’s movement through these three scenes feels like a fluid transition of memories and foreboding conversations. We see onstage how words said between lovers can be haunting, lurking ominously behind every exchange.

The three scenes simultaneously unravel in amazing synchronicity. The precision of timing creates the illusion of a puppeteer masterfully orchestrating entrances and exits, all of which are visible to each group through the sets’ windows, allowing all groups to see older Johan storming around their marital bedroom, like a ghost foreshadowing the couple’s doomed passion.

In von Hove’s second half, the three groups come together and the dividing curtains of the first half are lifted, revealing the space of the Barbican’s stage. All six characters enter, as Johan and Marianne violently brawl, the three Johans and Mariannes speak at the same time. In presenting the individuals from the past in dialogue with those from their future, von Hove ingeniously makes us consider the progression of human growth and identity. The sharp sounds of the couples’ shouts, made even more poignant by the staging, makes the scene of marital pandemonium fantastically tender. In the mass of this space, one cannot help but feel that the staging frustratingly loses the intimacy it created so spectacularly in the first half.

Nonetheless, von Hove’s Scenes from a Marriage never ceases to excite; a stunning reminder of theatre’s potential to adapt and reinvent. The play’s major flaw is that it’s only at the Barbican for four nights – go and see!

Scenes from a Marriage is playing Barbican until 17 November. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican Centre website.