First, a word of warning: if you’re looking for a great first-date outing or anniversary treat, steer clear of Scenes from a Marriage. Judging by the gasps of recognition, embarrassed laughter and knowing glances stealthily exchanged, Joanna Murray-Smith’s theatrical adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 mini-series, which reportedly doubled the Swedish divorce rate, has lost none of its power to discomfit.
Nor, in the age of wall-to-wall reality TV, is this frank portrait of matrimony any less compelling, as Trevor Nunn’s production (which debuted in 2008, starring his then-wife Imogen Stubbs) retains the bruising authenticity of the original. Not all of the 15 vignettes are action-packed, and it can sometimes be difficult to discern the play’s dramatic arc – it’s less peaks and troughs than a murky stasis shattered by sudden crises – but, as with a complex mosaic, when you step back and view the whole, patterns suddenly become clear.
However, one of the main conflicts of the piece is between knowledge and ignorance: does rational, informed analysis of ourselves and our relationships lead to happiness or away from it? The central couple often view proceedings with an intelligent gaze – Johan is an assured academic, Marianne an experienced divorce lawyer – yet both struggle to achieve self-awareness and simultaneously question whether they really want to reach for that forbidden fruit. “Some things should be allowed to live in a half light,” observes Marianne.