REVIEW: Prism (Richmond Theatre) ★★★★★

Beautifully written, brilliantly staged and superbly acted; Prism is a gorgeous piece of theatre.

Prism is inspired by the life of Jack Cardiff, a British man, born to vaudevillian parents who went on to become one of the most celebrated cinematographers in film history. He worked on some of the most iconic films of the 20th century in a career that spanned almost 70 years. He led the way in the development of filming techniques and revolutionised methods of lighting in films. His love of the great painters and their use of light prompted a pursuit of excellence in his lighting of sets for filming and photography. His brilliance in this field made him a favourite photographer of some of the most beautiful screen legends including Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and Katherine Hepburn.

Robert Lindsay plays Jack Cardiff, towards the end of his life, when he has been struck by the onset of dementia. The play is set in the garage of his house which his son Mason (Oliver Hembrough) has converted to a study to encourage his father to work on his autobiography. Cardiff’s growing confusion has led Mason to employ a full-time carer, Lucy (Victoria Blunt), although Mason is somewhat more interested in Lucy’s ability to type than her qualifications as a carer. Faced with an old-fashioned typewriter, Lucy prefers to have Jack talk into a tape-recorder which gives him licence to discuss his life and work.

Lindsay plays Jack as funny and infuriating in equal measure. At the start of the play his dementia manifests as absent minded forgetfulness but it progresses as the drama unfolds through to an ending that is painful to witness. Robert Lindsay is an incredible actor and his performance here is absolutely superb.

The staging is very cleverly done. Mason has converted the garage to house many of his father’s photographs and paintings collection as well as his old camera and some lights, believing that being surrounded by much of his history will encourage Jack to complete his autobiography, a work that appears far more important to Mason than to Jack himself. At times the photographs become screens which enhance the narrative, used to particularly good effect as Jack describes the development of film and light technology that was enabled by the beloved prism of the title.

Tara Fitzgerald as Nicola, Jack’s third wife is at odds with Mason, believing that surrounding Jack with relics of his career is encouraging his disconnect with present day. Fitzgerald brilliantly captures the heartbreak and frustration of a woman watching the man she loves disappear before her eyes.

In the second half of the play, we take a deep dive into Jack’s mind seeing the muddle of past and present day. Mason, Lucy and Nicola all play their parts as Jack revisits the filming of The African Queen. During one act, a beautifully written piece of dialogue from the first half is repeated to great effect; it is very cleverly done.

Prism is a really interesting play about a fascinating man.

Reviewed by Emma Heath

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