Probably Bergman's most avant garde film, so much of Persona's devastating effect is pure cinema. Bergman himself once said of his film that it "touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover". What then can we expect of a stage adaptation? We spoke to director Adena Jabcobs for some background on the project.
From celluloid to stage
We're not trying to repeat the film on stage. What we're doing is responding to the themes and the core poetics of the film through performance. What I'm interested in is the radical intimacy that Bergman deals with. In his films, it's about the closeness of the face, but in theatre I think intimacy needs to be thought of in a completely different way.
Intimacy and complicity
There's some question I have around making the audience complicit in something that is taboo – presenting them with something that they shouldn't be watching. I think it goes beyond just putting sex or violence on stage. What is shocking in Persona is that it's sort of a violence of the spirit.
The search for a story
In terms of classical drama, the film suggests an Orphic journey, to the underworld and back. The young woman hesitates before entering a room. She senses the possibility of her own darkness. When she enters, she finds a woman in the bed. Is she dead? From this meeting, the one appears to ascend, while simultaneously the other descends.
The desire to speak
Anytime I try to describe it as a linear story, it starts to move in the opposite direction. It becomes a series of signs that don't necessarily link properly. They have entered this world that is outside time and space, a confessional or purgatorial place, where their bodies or their souls have broken apart, or are trying to stay together. It's not real at all.
Between language and silence
I'm interested in how we deal with the act of expressing grief. I find the responses of both women incredibly fascinating. One either voluntarily or involuntarily becomes silent, and the other succumbs as language becomes a kind of mask that dissolves, obliterating her. The violence of that, and the horror, is the most crucial part of the content.
As a horror story
There's a dual kind of horror – of feeling like eyes are upon you, and also of feeling like nobody is watching. I feel like that's a fundamental horror that everybody understands at some level. I think artists identify particularly with that and perhaps it resonates with me too. I think I do feel like there are some things that it is impossible to put language to and put form to. Maybe that's a part of what theatre is about, attempting to put shapes around things that are impossible and out of reach and have a sense of horror about them.
Persona is presented by Jacobs' award-winning company, Fraught Outfit, in association with Theatre Works. Conceived and adapted by Adena Jacobs, Dayna Morrissey and Danny Pettingill, with Karen Sibbing, Meredith Penman and Daniel Schlusser.