Writer and Director: Terry Johnson
Reviewer: James Garrington
Jack Cardiff. Not a name that will ring many bells maybe, yet he was one of the greats of motion pictures, with a career spanning 75 years. His most notable work was as a cinematographer – the person who chooses lenses, film speed, focus, lighting and camera angles, effectively creating the image you see on the screen – during the period when movies were going from black and white to Technicolor and beyond. A man who, because of his work, got to know a great many film stars very well.
A story about this man’s life would provide some wonderful entertainment, but Prism adds an additional twist. Jack Cardiff is getting old, his sight is going and he is suffering from dementia. His son Mason is desperately trying to get him to write his memoirs before it is too late and has engaged a care assistant to help him write. Cardiff doesn’t want to write about his past though – his dementia means that actually, he’s spending most of his time living in the past instead.
This Prism is performed by a well-matched cast of four in a wonderfully moving and beautifully conceived production. Through Act 1 we see and hear Cardiff through the eyes of the people around him as they struggle to cope with his ramblings, his misunderstandings – then as Act 2 starts we find ourselves in his head, seeing the world through his eyes, reliving past events but with a different perspective
Robert Lindsay gives a tour-de-force performance as Cardiff. His portrayal of a man slowly slipping away is compelling and heartbreaking and although some of what he says is so absurd and comical that you can’t help laughing – especially during the earlier scenes before we fully understand – the humour is always gentle and inoffensive, and serves to temper yet also reinforce the hurt and pain caused by the worsening illness. Alongside Lindsay is Tara Fitzgerald as Cardiff’s wife, Nicola. Fitzgerald gives a nicely-pitched performance as a loving wife in turmoil. Hurt as her husband keeps calling her Katie, she’s unsure how to deal with the illness and torn between her desire to drag him back into the present and going along with his visions and fantasies.
Oliver Hembrough is his son Mason, who seems more concerned about the future than living in Jack’s past with him – angry because the book is not being written and with an apparent eye on future film deals and money to be made after Jack’s death. Finally, we have a brilliant portrayal of care assistant Lucy by the wonderful Victoria Blunt. Lucy doesn’t like old films, and she seems to have little idea about how to care for someone with dementia let alone help them write – yet she is the one who manages to get inside Jack’s mind, to care for him in a deeper sense.
With a wonderfully appropriate set by Tim Shortall, this showstopper production is a must-see as Lindsay continues the role he created for the Hampstead Theatre in 2017. The play was written with Lindsay in mind, and he is a perfect choice. Complementing and enhancing the set and effects beautifully we have some well-chosen lighting and video effects too, courtesy of Ben Ormerod and Ian William Galloway – this is, after all, a play about light and vision.
It’s on tour – be sure to catch it if you can. You won’t regret it.
Runs until: 26 October 2019 and on tour Image: Manuel Harlan