‘Persona’ is the world premiere of a new theatrical adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 iconic Swedish psychological movie - considered by many critics as one of the greatest films ever made. As you might expect, it is not light hearted, light entertainment. You have to listen carefully and watch for detail.
Persona was the Roman name for the mask worn by an actor to magnify their voice. Once the mask begins to dissolve, you can see reality beneath: how these women become intricately entwined. Director Paul Schoolman presents the thoughts of Ingmar Bergman himself, which frame the action to give a deeper understanding of the piece.
The story centres on a nurse, Sister Alma (Alice Krige) and her patient, well-known stage actress Elisabet Vogler (Nobuhle Ketelo), who has suddenly stopped speaking. They move to a cottage, where Alma cares for Elisabet, confides in her and begins having trouble distinguishing herself from her patient. This adaptation creates the character of The Narrator (Paul Schoolman), using Bergman’s voice. William Close plays an original score on his Earth Harp, which turns the theatre itself into a giant instrument by taking strings out into the auditorium.
The ethereal Earth Harp sets the scene and Close’s score links and underpins the narrative to eerie effect. The performances maintain this intensity, but I felt the production engaged my brain rather than my emotions. Schoolman begins the piece as if it is a lecture and his narrator continues like a puppeteer in presenting the other characters. Krige allows Alma’s character to emerge gently, slowly revealing more of her inner-self. Ketelo offers an intriguing, largely silent juxtaposition to her, with growing power. Videographer Filip Haglund provides many seascapes and images of children to reflect the developments in the story – the video provides another character.
This opening production in Studio 3 of the newly redeveloped Riverside Studios invites the audience to consider one woman’s retreat from reality whilst another discovers it. Go to be challenged!