Review: Face To Face
SYDNEY: Witnessing someone’s descent into madness can often make for great night in the theatre. Shakespeare’s Danish nobleman sets the bar high but an equally outrageous and disturbing number of female protagonists – Blanche, Ophelia, Lucia – eagerly make us want to watch. The woman at the centre of Face To Face is called Jenny. Perhaps a bit of a good and simple name but by no means is hers an uncomplicated story.
Dr. Jenny Isaksson was originally the pivotal character in a 1976 film written and directed by cinematic master Ingmar Bergman. The good doctor is a competent and disciplined professional living a comfortable middle class life. She is also a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The painful irony is while Jenny gets into the head of her patients, she doesn’t know herself at all. She doesn’t see the black dog coming and when it bites, her life unravels with such speed she is left aghast wondering how the whole thing happened.
There is a nice line of dark humour running through Simon Stone and Andrew Upton’s respectful adaptation which has retained the brutal honesty of Bergman’s script. The early scenes are realised with a minimum of fuss as set pieces – a hot tub, a bus shelter – smoothly slide on and off the large Sydney Theatre stage. Only later does set and lighting designer Nick Schlieper elicit gasps of awe as he did with his astonishing wall collapse scene-change in Baal when a huge white box descends from the roof to contain the actors. In this confined space we are privy to Jenny’s dreams and illusions. It is a powerful and beautifully executed effect that takes us from the outward to the inner life of the lead character.
Yet none of this would be of consequence if it wasn’t for Kerry Fox’s devastating performance as Jenny. She has excellent support from the likes of Mitchell Butel as her new friend and would be lover Tomas and from the ever wonderful Wendy Hughes who plays her aunt.
As Stone writes in his program notes, Bergman is “an acquired taste” but there is much to savour in this fine production.
Face to Face, Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre. Until 8 September. Bookings: 02 9250 1777