Nursing crisis: Persona @Riversidelondon


There’s something reassuringly contemplative about Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. No matter what humdrum life you may be leading, at least you haven’t gone mute from too much acting. It’s not the only message to take away from this stage adaptation. Even when things seem lost in translation from screen to stage, the blurring of lines of the roles people play in life still resonates. It’s currently playing at the newly reopened Riverside Studios at Hammersmith.

The piece centres around a famous stage actress Elizabet (Nobuhle Mngcwengi), who has stopped speaking and appears to have had some form of breakdown. As part of her recuperation, she travels with a nurse (Alice Krige) to a remote summer beach house. Alone with the waves and silence, they both are left to recover.

Krige and Mngcwengi create an intimate and engaging portrayal of this ambiguous relationship between the actress and the nurse. Are the conversations real or imagined? Who is the patient and who is providing the treatment? As the piece progresses, you think you have a handle on the story only to find yourself second-guessing.

There are some evocative projections against the backdrop of crashing seas as the lines between the two characters become blurred.

Dominating the production is an Earth Harp, which is a large stringed instrument that extends over the audience. Its sounds underscore the confusion of the characters and the unstable nature of their relationship.

The piece closely follows the film. However, this faithful translation to the stage makes certain elements seem less mysterious. The narration feels like an interruption to the unfolding drama on stage. Film references seem out of place.

At the end of the show, several audience members were wondering out loud what they had just seen was all about. That’s the point really. There’s something for anyone to take away from this. It all depends on where you’re coming from.

Directed by Paul Schoolman, Persona is at the lovely new Riverside Studios until 23 February.

⭐️⭐️⭐️


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