Prism/Malvern Theatres


THE twilight of life can indeed be a heavy burden to bear as memories and faculties fall away like autumn leaves.

Jack Cardiff was a renowned lighting cameraman who worked with the brightest stars during the golden age of the cinema.

And as is so often the case with an individual who has witnessed momentous times, the brain’s decline is all that more tragic and heartbreaking.

This deeply moving story, written and directed by Terry Johnson is, by his own admission, a piece of fiction based on Cardiff’s life. Artistic licence has been taken, as have a great many liberties.

Yet the writer’s imagined character, superbly brought to life by Robert Lindsay in the main role, is entirely credible. His depiction of a befuddled old man who mistakes a suburban garage for one of his classic film sets is both comical and utterly depressing at the same time.

He drinks and swears… and then swears and drinks some more, the frustration of his condition bubbling to the surface with a volcanic intensity. This is now the sum of his existence.

And Lindsay is truly magnificent, a tower of frailty trapped in a nether world of total confusion.

Tara Fitzgerald as long-suffering wife Nicola and Victoria Blunt as carer Lucy are the women in Cardiff’s life, beacons that illuminate his progress through an endless night.

The flashback to the set of African Queen is a masterly reconstruction, with Fitzgerald reprising the Katherine Hepburn role and Oliver Hembrough, erstwhile son Mason, morphing into a stupendous Humphrey Bogart, thankfully not festooned with leeches as in the 1951 film.

Then, in the blink of an eye, Blunt changes from Lauren Bacall to become Marilyn Monroe, all bosoms, bleached hair and husky voice. The changes are enough to make any self-respecting chameleon turn even greener with envy.

Meanwhile, Tim Shortall’s designs and Ben Ormerod’s lighting provide the perfect backdrop for the unravelling of Cardiff’s tangled life and times.

Prism runs until Saturday (November 30) and is thoroughly recommended.

John Phillpott