Touring – reviewed at Richmond Theatre, London
Guest reviewer: Serena Norgren
The Golden Age of Hollywood – we all know Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Alfred Hitchcock. Great movies like the Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, African Queen…even Rambo but Jack Cardiff…?? Well Jack Cardiff is widely regarded as one of the greatest cinematographers of all time and in Prism, we enter his world.
Prism, written and directed by the acclaimed playwright Terry Johnson, tells the story of Cardiff in the latter years of his life, retired to a sleepy village in Buckinghamshire with his wife and son, Mason. Afflicted by advanced dementia, Mason is encouraging Jack to complete his autobiography. As a man who has worked on many of Hollywood’s most famous blockbusters, and with some of the most iconic performers in the industry, the prospect is an enticing one (well for Mason at least).
Surrounded by memorabilia from a lifetime of “painting with light”, the writing of this autobiography should be an easy matter. The declining Jack, however, is not really up to the task, more interested in trying to make it to his local village pub for a scotch and soda and drifting back in time and his memories of the likes of Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Mason has hired a young woman, Lucy, as Jack’s carer and to help with the writing.
Robert Lindsay, as Jack Cardiff, is mesmerising. The part was written with Lindsay in mind and allows him to bring his full arsenal of talents to bear. The restless energy and charm that clearly made Jack such a magnet to the many beautiful women he encountered still pervades; his professional obsessiveness rattling on about screen sizes, light, talking to his old beloved camera. All this is tempered with moments of real comedy and of the vaudeville performer that formed Jack Cardiff’s roots. The destructive effect of dementia on not just the individual himself but on his nearest and dearest is poignantly and sensitively handled. Lindsay brings real humanity and vulnerability to Cardiff’s unravelling.
Lindsay has a great supporting cast. Victoria Blunt as Lucy is gauche, lacking confidence and a bit dysfunctional while at the same time likeable and compassionate. Tara Fitzgerald as Cardiff’s much younger wife, Nicola, manages that disconnect between loving her husband while feeling unloved by him as he increasingly confuses her with his beloved Katy (Hepburn). Oliver Hembrough does a fine job of a son who has lived in his father’s shadow his whole life.
Tim Shorthall’s set has lots of lovely visual touches. There are beautiful and luminous photographs of the female stars Cardiff worked with, such as Katherine Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, pinned up around the garage walls. In the second act, there is an amazing transformation, as the garage walls melt away and we find ourselves on the Congo River on the set of the African Queen for an extended flashback with the rest of the cast very capably playing Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Munro, Humphrey Bogart and Arthur Miller. Ben Ormerod’s lighting also deserves a special mention.
Throughout the piece, there are lots of movie references that, to be honest, will be lost on all but the most film-educated of audiences – a joke about Robert Bolt was completely lost on this reviewer but that does not detract.
If nothing else, it is worth seeing Prism to see Robert Lindsay showcasing his amazing talent!!