jack and family

The dying of the light . . . Oliver Hembrough as Mason, Robert Lindsay as Jack Cardiff, Victoria Blunt as Lucy and Tara Fitzgerald as Nicola. Pictures: Manuel Harlan


Malvern Theatres


Depicting the impact of dementia is always an uneasy view and hard to toe the line between entertainment and realism.

This play, written and directed by Olivier and Tony award-winning Terry Johnson, attempts to do so by combining the difficult subject with the glamour of Hollywood's heyday.

It's based on the experiences of British cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who was involved with iconic films like The African Queen, and acting greats from Humphrey Bogart to Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Kathryn Hepburn.

Prism - taking its name from the beam deflector used in the Technicolor camera - lures the audience in with comedy and strong characters to start with but emotional attachment from then on.

Robert Lindsay, who was involved in helping bring this play to stage, leads as an elderly and deteriorating Jack, whose family bring in young carer Lucy to cope with his lack of awareness.

The inter-generational conversations between Jack and Lucy (Victoria Blunt) have the most spark; while his relationship with his son Mason (Oliver Hembrough) and wife (Tara Fitzgerald) pack an emotional punch throughout.

It's cleverly scripted to make the audience become slowly aware of what is happening within Jack's mind but also brings alive his romance with lighting and cinema.

jack and camera

Robert Lindsay as Jack Cardiff with his beloved Technicolor three-strip camera, the camera that revolutionised colour in cinema, with Jack creating magic on screen.

Added to that is a superb interactive set that uses large electronic photo frames that change to explain the world of cinematography while Jack is animatedly discussing it.

Then there is the backdrop that also gives an insight into Jack's world - whether it's a movie set or the jungle in African Queen.

It helps make the play so much more immersive than I have experienced in theatre for a long time.

Act Two delves further into Jack's memories and gives the strong, small cast a chance to double up as Hollywood legends in this impressive production by Hampstead Theatre and Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

Fitzgerald is believable as Kathryn Hepburn, with all the famous mannerisms, while Blunt manages to transform herself from a northern working-class, single mum to become confident as both Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe - no easy feat.

Hembrough meanwhile takes on Humphrey Bogart and Arthur Miller.

For all the glint from Hollywood, the core of this play is ultimately about the heart wrenching emotion involved with dementia - and that's where distinguished actors like Lindsay and Fitzgerald shine the most.

They are both captivating, bringing a lump to the throat through their fine performances. Despite the harrowing theme, Prism is an utterly compelling production that everyone should see. To 30-11-19.

Alison Brinkworth


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