Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

13/09/2018 - 14/09/2018

Production Details

Famous actress, Elisabeth Vogler has suddenly stopped speaking. Nurse Alma is assigned to look after her, secluded at her doctor’s beach house. Alma discusses personally information, gradually increasing in confidentiality, in an attempt to get Elisabeth to speak. Alma slowly realises she has less control than she thought, and finds herself at the whims of her silent patient. Her entire social self falls into question when she starts to relate to Elisabeth in more ways than she’d care to admit.

Please note this performance includes flashing lights, sexual themes and partial nudity.

13th September 1pm/7pm
14th September 1pm
Allen Hall Theatre, Leith Walk, North Dunedin
$5 Waged; $3 Unwaged
Door Sales Only
Cash Only

Victoria Ransom (22) as Nurse Alma
Katherine Kennedy (23) as Elisabeth Vogler
Isaac Martyn (21) as Mr Vogler
Amy Wright (21) as the Doctor
Nathan Kennedy (20), Asia King (20), and Shannon McCabe (21) are the ensemble. 

Theatre ,

45 minutes

Deeply weird

Review by Izzy Lomax-Sawyers 14th Sep 2018

Persona is a stage adaptation of the classic 1966 Swedish film by Ingmar Bergman. In the programme, director Shaun Swain writes: “Persona was one of the first films I studied … and it immediately made a potent burning impression in my mind. It deconstructs everything I have come to learn in my years of study: theatre, film, directing, writing, acting, the social ‘self’, identity, sexuality, life, death, growing old, accepting life’s responsibilities, mental health – and so on.” I’m not sure all of that comes through in the performance, but I haven’t seen the film or done a theatre/film degree so I appreciate the CliffsNotes.

The show starts immediately on entering Allen Hall Theatre, as audience members are confronted with the presence of two actors in persona masks (geddit) standing to the side of the entranceway and watching us silently as we walk in. I am uncultured swine, so I ’sup-nod them nervously and take my seat. Before the scripted play begins, the actors and crew are onstage doing vocal warm-ups and chatting. The show is staged in-the-round, and the ensemble and Doctor speak from within the audience at times. On reflection later I am unconvinced that the already complex piece needs to play quite so much with the fourth wall, but again, I am uncultured swine.

For most of the performance, Alma (in white and beige) and Elizabeth (all in black) are the only characters on stage. The costumes are excellent, and help me a lot as I try to make sense of what is going on. The film clips, music and sound are all excellent: eerie and atmospheric.

The premise of Persona is that an actress who refuses to speak and the young nurse caring for her go to live in a remote cottage in the country. Boundaries blur: initially professional boundaries (basically everyone bones), and eventually the boundary where one woman ends and the other begins.

I don’t buy Victoria Ransom’s nurse Alma at first: the tone and body language of her first interaction with her patient leaving me utterly unwilling to suspend my disbelief. I warm to her as she and Elizabeth grow closer, and even more so as the cracks in her facade of wholesome innocence and naivety become apparent. Kat Kennedy plays Elizabeth. I’ll try not to embarrass myself by gushing too much about Kat Kennedy, but her Elizabeth is dark and intense, cold and smart, vulnerable and broken.

The story is all a bit bizarre and leaves me feeling deeply uneasy, which is surely the goal of a stage adaptation of a psychological drama. There are some sequences that are almost definitely supposed to be dreams or nightmares, but at times I have no idea what is real. I briefly convince myself that the Doctor is Elizabeth’s hallucination, before deciding that perhaps the Doctor is simply a horrible person and clinician. I still can’t decide whether Alma is a hallucination, a dissociated part of Elizabeth’s identity, or just a seriously messed up real person.

Swain set himself an ambitious task in adapting what has been described as “probably the most written-about film in the canon” (ya girl has Wikipedia, okay), and I think largely pulls it off. Some directing choices don’t pay dividends. A monologue where the ensemble speaks certain words along with Elizabeth (for emphasis?) is awkward and ill-timed. Given there is an actor playing the doctor, the recitation of lines presumably attributable to the doctor by various ensemble members at the start of the play is odd. But I think ultimately the show is affecting and thought-provoking, and kudos to Swain for that.

Persona is deeply weird. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it; I wouldn’t say I was supposed to. See for yourself at the final show, 1pm Friday 14 September at Allen Hall Theatre. 


Editor September 14th, 2018

See this British Film Institute/Monthly Film Bulletin review of the Ingmar Bergman film.

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