21 January 2020

Persona at Riverside suffered from the seating

Riverside Studios in Hammersmith was one of my favourite theatres before it was closed a few years ago for a substantial rebuild so I was delighted when the reopening was finally announced and I booked tickets for the first new show there. That was a retelling of the Ingmar Bergman film Persona (unknown to me) and I put out £30 for seat F9, a little warily as I had no idea what the new studio was like.

The evening started very well with a meal and a coffee in the new cafe/bar area called Studio 8. The space was open, welcoming and attractive while the food, a curry!, was excellent and superb value at about £10 including some extras.

The new Studio 3 felt just like the old studios with the emphasis on function rather than form. That was never a problem before and should not have been this time, but it was. The raking between the rows was too shallow and with the stage not raised my view was severely limited.

The shallow depth of the stage, so unlike the old Studio 3, made things worse as the players could not move back further were they could be seen better. In one scene, where they sat on the ground picking mushrooms, I could see nothing at all.

Obviously the poor view severely detracted from my enjoyment of the play which was a shame as it was an interesting story imaginatively told.

Two of the main devices to tell the story I could see. Understandably as this was a play of a film, use was made of projections and while I could not see the whole screen I could see enough between the heads to get the mood, e.g. of a gentle shoreline. Also I presume inspired by the film, there was a soundtrack played on a device labelled 'Earth Harp" which was a harp of sorts in that it had long wires that were strung out above the audience. The harp base was raised and in a corner of the stage so I could see and hear it perfectly.

The story was introduced as a staging of a redreaming of the a dream by Ingmar Bergman that he had turned into a film. That sense of unreality and uncertainty pervaded the story which while superficially simple, a nurse looks after a patient, had many complexities within it. The story progressed slowly and artfully and I enjoyed the journey without having any idea where we were headed. Destinations were reached but these were just other steps on the enthralling journey.

Persona was a delightful play delivered with skill and imagination. It is just a shame that the theatre let it down.

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