A prism scatters white light into a rainbow of colours. It is a device that can alter perception, clarifying or distorting our viewpoint.

Playwright, Terry Johnson, has taken the life story of Jack Cardiff, a man whose work is better known than his name, and with artistic licence and a great many liberties, has written a powerful drama about age and memory, forgetfulness and reality.

Jack Cardiff was renowned in the film world for his innovative lighting designs and camera angles in shooting some of the greatest classic films and iconic photographs. Born in 1914 his long career began in silent films and continued right till the start of the digital era.

Robert Lindsay has the arduous role of Jack, a man brought in old age, by his son, Mason, into the family home’s refurbished garage that contains a lifetime of memorabilia from Jack’s career. The walls are lined with huge photos of the screen greats – Marilyn, Sophia, Audrey, Anita, among others.

That Jack is confused is an understatement. He thinks he is in the pub; he sees the garage door as a framing screen for an intended shoot; he mistakes his wife, Nicola (Tara Fitzgerald) for Katharine Hepburn. Icons he has known and loved flash in and out of his consciousness.

Mason (Oliver Hembrough) is hoping to persuade Jack to write his memoirs and has engaged a care assistant, Lucy, to help him. In Jack’s mind Lucy (Victoria Blunt) easily transforms into Marilyn Monroe.

By act two we have a total breakdown of reality as Jack finds himself as a young man back on the set of “The African Queen”, with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Wishful thinking or remembered truth, Jack and Katharine are in love, and Bogart has some pause for thought. Arthur Miller, too, has to fight for the attention of Marilyn when Jack is around.

Can it be that the prism of old age gives a better life than the one actually lived? Jack is certainly enjoying his.

The set, by Tim Shortall, is a wonder of detail and richness, morphing from cluttered garage to steamy insect-ridden jungle location. Robert Lindsay has two hours of ceaseless time onstage, delivering a splendid performance as a man caught up in his own eventful life. It’s a challenging role, and a challenge ably met.

That we do not for a moment pity Jack in his confusion shows how caught up we become in his vision. The prism casts its rainbow hue and entrances us all.

King’s Theatre until November 2nd.


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