THEATRE REVIEW: Fanny and Alexander starring Penelope Wilton


WHERE: Old Vic

WHEN: 24/2, press night 1/3, runs to 14/4/18

We join director Max Webster and writer Stephen Beresford for a Q&A two nights before their production of Ingmar Bergman’s beloved children’s classic Fanny and Alexander opens.

  • Read on for reasons including how this version does not include Nazis and jazz

They tell us that Webster proposed it as something ambitious to Old Vic artistic director Matthew Warchus and he put it to Beresford as the pair travelled together on the Eurostar to Paris for the opening of the film they worked on together, Pride (a monstagigz favourite).

The only stipulation from Bergman’s estate was that they should be ‘as adventurous as possible’ with it, although they’re perhaps not quite so daring as his daughter who’s planning a version featuring Nazis and jazz at its core.

Instead, Webster and Beresford’s Fanny and Alexander remains true to the spirit of the original about the theatrical Ekdahl family in Uppsala, Sweden, who embrace life lustily with an enthusiasm for pleasures including culinary feasts.

This is contrasted with the strict Calvinist household in which the titular children go to live when their actor father dies unexpectedly young and their mother falls in with the local Bishop (played supremely menacingly by Downton Abbey‘s Kevin Doyle).

At three-and-a-half hours including two intervals it sounds like it should drag but we’re in safe hands here and the story is involving and the cast strong.

Those expecting to see a starring role from Penelope Wilton, who won the Best Actress Olivier in 2015 for Taken At Midnight (who you may also remember from Downton Abbey), might be a little disappointed for although she is charming as the Ekdahl matriarch she is not afforded much of the show’s generous running time.

Instead, it is very much a show about the children and the lesson they learn that life is to be lived, embraced wholeheartedly and that a diet of cold cabbage soup does no-one any favours.

We wondered whether the running time might be too much for this but it’s a seasonal show which suits its winter slot and left our enthusiasm for all things Scandinavian still wanting more.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Old Vic. Tickets
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