Across Land & Sea Travel Blog

Fanny and Alexander at The Old Vic: Review

Despite not having seen Ingmar Bergman's 1982 film, I was excited to see the premiere of the stage version, chiefly because I adore The Old Vic and also because the original has been adapted by Stephen Beresford (The Last of the Haussmans).

And then I noticed the running time - 3 hours and 45 minutes. 

Yes, I know, the film has a running time of nearly 6 hours, so I shouldn't have been surprised. Whether the stage version justifies such an excessive time span, however, is a matter of opinion, and I found myself mentally cutting down sections, rather than hanging on every word. 

The play centres around two children who, after their widowed mother marries a stern bishop, are isolated from their extended family. The death of their fun-loving father ignites a boyish anger in young Alexander who takes an immediate dislike to the bishop and his rules. Their previously colourful existence is altered by the restrictions of religious dogma, a reality that their mother comes to realise too late. I overheard fellow theatregoers claiming that this adaptation is slightly different to the film, so I'm determined to find a lazy Sunday (because I really would need a whole day) to find out for myself.

The staging is instantly impressive - from busy scenes backstage in the Ekdahl family's theatre, to an eery room full of moving puppets, Tom Pye makes effective use of the space. At times, the use of movement is stunning, such as when tables and sideboards are swept smoothly away with a throwaway push from Alexander. The family feasts, with coordinated reactions to the seemingly endless list of courses, are captivating.  

Of course, Penelope Wilton is fabulous, but I was pleasantly surprised to see another Downton star on stage in Kevin Doyle, who plays the bishop. The entire cast were good, and I appreciated Annie Firbank holding it together when she nearly got knocked clean off stage by a long table during a set change...

Every Act was good, but it left me wanting more. The joy of the Ekdahl family could have been more vibrant, the bishop could have been crueller, the climactic scenes could have had more urgency. I also had an issue with the lighting: too often were cast members left in the shadows when delivering their lines. 

I had chosen not to see Alan Ayckbourn's The Divide, which played here in early February, due to its underwhelming critical response and its long running time (3 hours 45 minutes, down from a whopping 6 hours when it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe). This is not to say that I'm averse to sitting down for that long; Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman (3 hours 15 minutes) and National Theatre's Jane Eyre (3 hours) are two of the most brilliant, and engaging, shows I've ever seen.

Ultimately, whilst this production has a fantastic cast and shows flickers of brilliance, neither my mind or my behind could be prevented from fidgeting for the full running time.


Fanny & Alexander is running at The Old Vic until 14 April 2018. 

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