Prism – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Writer and Director: Terry Johnson

Reviewer: John Kennedy

The only hair-in-the-gate blemish on this otherwise exquisite, elegantly framed, semi-biographical exposé on the life of cinematic craftsman, Jack Cardiff, is that Writer/Director, Terry Johnson calls it a wrap so perfectly soon – maybe it’s the light – he’s used it all up. Fiat Lux – Let there be Light. For Jack, it’s all about light. It’s all about a very illuminating, gratifying and accomplished production – poignant, witty and impeccably structured.

The alchemist of celluloid light and Mephistopheles magic to the Hollywood stars on the silver screen, Jack Cardiff, has Alzheimer’s disease. His insistent, first-marriage son, Mason, determined to keep his father from losing his final grip on the ‘cliff-edge of reality’, hires carer, Lucy (a chameleon ingenue, wonderful Victoria Blunt) to goad him into completing his memoirs. Mason’s (Oliver Hembrough) own script suggests a less altruistic sub-text of anticipated publishing royalties. Lucy doesn’t like ‘old films’, they’re too long and the wrong shape on tele. Her take on Jack as the purveyor of silver-screen fantasy escapism doesn’t project well on the brutal reality of her hand-to-mouth everyday existence.

Robert Lindsay, as Jack, draws on his irascible, naughty boy’s wink enough to charm the pants off  Mother Superior, stage-craft to superb effect. The four-part compact ensemble completes with Tara Fitzgerald as Jack’s much younger and understandably very much agitated, wife, Nicola. Her later portrayal, in the fantasy African Queen on steamy-set sequence, as Katherine Hepburn, is captivating in its studied, bitter-sweet clipped witty precision. Those of Game Of Thrones persuasion will need little further evidence as to the range and depth of Fitzgerald’s convincing metier. Lucy, initially a two-fingered clumsy amanuensis on an ancient typewriter, is soon drawn into Jack’s world of technicolor wonder seen through the literal and metaphorical prism of his cinematic genius. ‘My job was to flatter women,’ he tells her as she is enticed into Jack’s synaptic-shattered looking-glass, looking-back world of Hollywood Star-lit wonder. In his fractured, reminiscent realities, those about him assume the silver-screen personas he lit and filmed.

He is the master of phantasmagorical wizardry, the photon maestro who conjures light as a medium of manifest permanence. ‘I shape the moment – you just have to be in it,’ he enlightens the Marilyn-Monroe-morphed Lucy. Designer Tim Shortall’s conceptualisation is a performance in itself. A montage of celluloid edit-clips presents both static and moving image cinema classics. It rises to reveal the garage where Jack keeps his treasured equipment. Framed portraits of female stars momentarily focus-shift audience attention; gossamer ghosts brought to life as if telekinetic projections of Jack’s Pygmalion obsession to captured beauty.

A painted back-drop representation of an idyllic, Home Counties faux-rustic setting appears to move in the slightest breeze of a passing character as if part of a rather dodgy Am-Dram stage-set. It is only when, as Jack tutors Lucy in the wonders of the movie camera’s prismatic colour separation, the back-drop scene shimmers and subtly shifts with chromatic, re-focused precision. It’s gone in a moment, a freeze-frame delight. ’Is all this just deja-vu?’ asks Jack – twice again. His mortality is but of temporal concern compared to his fear of being blinded from the light by his progressive mental deterioration. Or, was it just those f***ing mosquitos dive-bombing his ‘dirty’ Martini playing poker with a jungle-spooked ‘Bogie’ between shoots on The African Queen location? This shimmering production bristles with particles of tactile, living light and tangible glowing shadow – a blockbuster must-see.

Runs until: 12 October 2019 and on tour                                       Image: Manuel Harlan

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

A life projected in perfect ratio

The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

Related Articles

Back to top button