Stephen Beresford’s adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny And Alexander follows the lives of an upper class family, and the dysfunction within it. It is a tale of decadence, desire, death and the theatre. You are warned at the start of the play that this is not for feint hearted theatre goers, as Alexander cheekily states in his opening speech, “you are about to witness the longest play in the history of the world!” It may not quite be that, but running at three and a half hours, including two intervals, it is certainly a journey.
One of the most outstanding things about this production is its design. Tom Pye’s set is incredibly ambitious and the slickness of each transformation of space is mesmerising. Costume designer, Laura Hopkins certainly matches the majesty of the space, with each outfit capturing the decadence and glamour of the upper class. The show is visually stunning. Its atmosphere is constantly changing and the lighting, music and overall design all contribute in making this not only functional, but also fantastically enjoyable. The fluidity of each scene change is slickly seamless, with superb musical accompaniment composed by Alex Baranowski.
Unsurprisingly, Penelope Wilton’s portrayal of the erudite Helena Ekdahl is a highlight. She glides through each scene with effortless exuberance. Her execution of each witty one-liner, along with an incredible stage presence, makes for an exceptional performance. Michael Pennington is also fantastic. He has superb comic timing, along with a throwaway glibness that is hugely watchable. The two youngest members of the cast show tremendous depth as Fanny and Alexander and obviously have very bright futures ahead. There are some uneven performances within the ensemble, but for the most part the cast is strong.
The story itself is fascinating (hence why it was such a successful film in 1982), and the writing is fast paced, frantic and intelligent. In Alexander’s prologue, the audience is also warned of “boring parts for the old people”, but fortunately these moments are extremely rare. Beresford’s adaptation has created an environment in which high stakes moments are delightfully juxtaposed with light heartedness and comedy. The script is snappy and sophisticated, with observant theatrical clichés and an insightful dissection of pretentious theatre personnel. It explores themes of religion, love and lust along with quests for forgiveness, and a lasting fear of death. Director, Max Webster captures the tension in each scene superbly. You are transfigured at times, fully invested in the progression of the story, which is a terrific accomplishment with a play so long.
There’s little chance you would recommend this show to someone who is a first time theatregoer. It is obviously very wordy and traditional, without exploring many modern day social issues. However, for lovers of the theatre it could be a must-see. It is as engrossing as it is grand. With a superb storyline, enjoyable aesthetics and wonderful performances throughout, it is certainly worth a watch.
Fanny And Alexander is playing at The Old Vic until 14 April 2018
Photo: Manual Harlan