Review: Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic

Fancy three and a half hours of Ingmar Bergman? At least the Old Vic’s seats are comfortable for Fanny and Alexander with  a marvellous Penelope Wilton 

“I’d really like to know what anyone else thinks”

I can’t think of Fanny and Alexander without thinking of the phrase sweet Fanny Adams (which, sidebar, has quite the horrific origin). But more to the point, I have to say the idea of another adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film didn’t quite fill me with enough joy to be rushing to the Old Vic (the extraordinary Scenes From A Marriage aside, I’ve not had the best of times with him).

So with Stephen Beresford (he of The Last of the Haussmans) adapting and Max Webster (he of The Lorax) directing, it was with a little reluctance that I devoted a swathe of my Easter Saturday to this drama. And while I’d love to say that it was totally worth it, as a way to wait for the Resurrection it left me feeling a little like Pontius Pilate must have done way back when.

The play follows the fortunes of the Ekdahls, the Redgraves of the Swedish city of Uppsala. We first witness their theatrical dynasty in full flow at an indulgent Christmas but real-life drama soon intercedes. A bleak turn of events looks to hit the children Alexander and Fanny the hardest as a newly-imposed puritanism threatens the rich imagination of their world.

It’s all a bit Gothic, increasingly so we go into the third and then fourth hour and to be quite frank, it just never really gripped me as a piece of storytelling. What saves it is a beautiful design from Tom Pye, luscious red curtains turning to looming timber frames. And a quality of acting that engages no matter what – Penelope Wilton’s grande dame, Kevin Doyle’s brusque Edvard, Catherine Walker’s complex Emilie.  

Running time: 3 hours 25 minutes (with 2 intervals)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Fanny and Alexander is booking at the Old Vic until 14th April

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