Married couples have a lot to say about their relationship, often referring to their spouse as ‘the ol’ ball-and-chain,’ or their ‘neurotic other half.’
Yet most of this is done in jest, as marriage is generally built on a foundation of safety, trust and mutual respect. However, so often marriage unravels like a ball of yarn, once strong and pliable, now withered with no sense of direction. ‘Scenes From A Marriage,’ adapted for the stage by Joanna Murray-Smith, offers a glimpse into the often darker realities of marriage, and asks the questions: who are you within a marriage? Who are you outside it? What do you gain and what do you lose? While these tough questions seem hard to tackle, real-life couple Ben Winspear and Marta Dusseldorp play Johann and Marianne with such conviction, making ‘Scenes From A Marriage’ an extraordinarily intimate, honest, moving love story.
Opening with a scene of two children quietly playing, the set, one of the most excellent examples of IKEA modernity, is the main feature of the show, and evolves and changes to suit each scene, creating the illusion of space and a three-dimensional world within the small stage, growing smaller and larger when required. Each scene change occurs quite naturally, reflecting the tone and pace of the show so effortlessly, it feels as though audiences are inside Johann and Marianne’s house, inside their workplace, inside their lives of chaos and destruction.
While the show begins in a light-hearted fashion, detailing two university sweethearts with the world at their feet, it slowly grows darker, as Johann admits he’s having an affair and abandons his wife and children for a glitzy life in Paris. Both Dusseldorp and Winspear command attention as Marianne the marriage lawyer/perfect housewife and Johann the charming university professor/bored husband. Marta uses her whole body in the performance, her physical command and agility impressive and effective. While Winspear is striking and convincing as a selfish husband, Dusseldorp is the scene-stealer, especially after revealing she never really loved her children.
As time passes, tense scenes creep up slowly and by the time the comical slap turns into domestic violence, the show transforms into a nail-biting, seat-gripping performance, so captivating yet repulsive, it was impossible for viewers to avert their eyes.
While the play’s first act feels a little slow, yet an interesting look into the character’s lives, the second act reveals the intention of the first, the show descending into darkness, the lighting dimmed, the minimal yet ominous score mirroring the inner conflicts of the couple. The audience feels the dull lives of Marianne and Johan, the feeling of going in circles, and by the time their frustration results in physical violence, viewers are so emotionally exhausted, hands clench, fingers dig into palms, we feel their anger as if it was our own. It’s such a well-done scene it almost feels real. Especially when it is a real thing for many couples.
Compulsively watchable, peppered with witticisms, outstandingly realistic, ‘Scenes From A Marriage’ is a rollercoaster ride of emotions, either a sobering glimpse into reality for couples suffering similar troubles, or an off-putting depiction of marriage and realities to come for those blissfully unwed. A superb performance.
'Scenes From A Marriage' plays Queensland Performing Arts Centre until 3 December.