A hot and humid summer's evening is probably not the best way to experience the Almeida Theatre for the first time. It is a splendid theatre but air-conditioning would have made sitting through an hour and a half's performance with a large, fidgety and throat-clearing man in the row behind, slightly less of an endurance.
Still it helped add to the tense atmosphere of a play set on a family holiday that is doomed from the moment one of the characters says that everything is going to be perfect.
And this family holiday is teetering on the edge of disaster from the outset: a married daughter (Ruth Wilson) newly released from a mental hospital, husband Martin (Justin Salinger) determined to love her better, novelist father David (Ian McElhinney) struggling with his art and using it as an excuse to distance himself and 16-year-old brother Max (Dimitri Leonidas) at that delicate and awkward age of sexual discovery.
A fragile web of inter-relationships is quickly woven with Karin (Ruth Wilson) at the centre keeping everyone together. Which is kind of ironic given she is the one with bipolar disorder and arguably the most vulnerable.
Inevitably her condition worsens and she is drawn to an attic room where she expects an audience with god. Her crumbling mental state brings relationship tensions to a head of confrontations, accusations and home truths and ultimately a shocking denouement that could make or break the family completely.
As Karin, Wilson absolutely shines. She is the mixed-bag of conflicted bursts of energy, hysteria, delusions, lethargy and calm. Her performance is so effortless in its schizophrenic range that when she isn't on the stage everyone else's feels almost forced and the occasionally jarring script is exposed.
There was a debate in the post show cast Q&A (more in a separate post) about how genuine the feeling is behind the characters the final lines. Despite thoroughly enjoying the intensity of the play, I couldn't help feeling, like some of the characters, that I wanted to get the hell out of such a close environment.
Through a Glass Darkly is on until July 31st - worth a watch but only if the weather is cooler.
What the professionals had to say:
Michael Billington in The Guardian gave it four stars: "Jenny Worton's version of Bergman's Oscar-winning 1961 movie proves to have a strange, haunting theatrical power."
Paul Taylor in The Independant was less bowled over giving it three stars believing it didn't work as an adaptation: "The production is manifestly a high-minded labour of love by director Michael Attenborough and writer Jenny Worton. But when it's divorced from the bleak, brooding brilliance of Bergman's cinematography, with its harrowed close-ups and haunting footage of Faro, the story is left looking as dubious and muddled as it is portentous."
There are two very easy ones: Dan Jones who was responsible for the music and sound also worked on Criminal Justice, which starred a certain Mr Whishaw.
And Terry King the fight director worked on His Dark Materials for the National in which Mr Whishaw made one of his first professional stage appearances.