Oct 30 2019 | By More

★★★★☆    Sad but true

King’s Theatre: Mon 28 Oct – Sat 2 Nov 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a deeply felt emotional core to Prism at the King’s. Written and directed by Terry Johnson, the play benefits from an excellent central performance by Robert Lindsay.

While the name of Jack Cardiff is perhaps not as widely known as some of the cinematic figures Johnson has put on stage in previous plays, he is certainly one of a handful of names that would always crop up in a discussion of the best cinematographer in the history of film.

Robert Lindsay. Pic: Manuel Harlan

Although he directed some films himself, most notably Sons and Lovers, he is best known for his extraordinary work on Powell and Pressburger masterpieces Black Narcissus, A Matter Of Life And Death and The Red Shoes, where his pioneering – not to say visionary – work with light and colour is nothing short of astonishing.

Cardiff was familiar with many of the female icons of the golden age of Hollywood, and his easy-going ‘English gentleman’ persona may allegedly have helped him get to know them even better. However, this play is only partly about cinema.

There are certainly discussions of cameras and aspect ratios, and Tim Shortall’s superlative set design –aided in no small part by Ian William Galloway’s video design – does give the production a strong visual element, but at its heart there is a more domestic, more emotional and decidedly bittersweet feel to proceedings.

Tara Fitzgerald and Robert Lindsay. Pic: Manuel Harlan

The Cardiff depicted here by Lindsay is retired and in the throes of Alzheimer’s. He is unable to recognise his younger wife Nicola, while his son Mason – who has struggled to escape his father’s shadow – is keen to see Jack complete an autobiography. To this end, he has hired Lucy, a young carer with problems of her own, who has no interest in ‘old films’.

Every minute of Lindsay’s experience, stagecraft and talent shows in his portrayal of Cardiff. The character’s easy charm fits him like a glove, while the depiction of a man struggling to retain his sense of himself is done without exaggeration or undue drama, and is all the more effective for it.

Tara Fitzgerald’s brittle disappointment as the woman who has lost her husband even as he still lives is similarly unshowy and emotionally resonant. Victoria Blunt gives Lucy a convincingly multi-faceted aspect, while Oliver Hembrough’s Mason is every inch the grown man who still needs his father’s approval.

Tara Fitzgerald as Katherine Hepburn and Robert Lindsay. Pic: Manuel Harlan

These three performers also appear as Hollywood figures as Cardiff’s past seeps into the present. These interludes, while well performed, are perhaps the least convincing part of the play, with Lindsay and Fitzgerald’s performances more than enough to show the workings of time, memory, mortality and identity without things being made so explicit.

There is an exactness to Johnson’s direction, as well as to the design and Colin Towns’s evocative, filmic music, that does threaten to tip into the portentous, but it is always saved by the sad truths on display in a production that is as heartbreaking as it is celebratory.

Running time 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven St, EH3 9LQ
Monday 28 October – Saturday 2 November 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Prism on tour 2019:
28 Oct-2 November Edinburgh
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
4-9 November Chichester
Festival Theatre
01243 781321 Book online
11-16 November Guildford
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 44 00 00 Book online
18-23 November Cambridge
Arts Theatre
01223 503333 Book online
25-30 November Malvern
Festival Theatre
01684 892277 Book online

Oliver Hembrough, Robert Lindsay and Victoria Blunt. Pic: Manuel Harlan


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