Bergman and The Old Vic

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As we prepare to mark our bicentenary on Friday 11 May, Ingmar Bergman fans have also spent 2018 celebrating the writer and director’s centenary. 100 years, two months and three days after The Old Vic came into being, Ingmar Bergman was born.

Often recognised of one of the most influential film makers of all time, Bergman was also a highly respected director for theatre and it was this that led him to The Old Vic in 1970.

Sir Laurence Olivier saw Bergman’s touring production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler in 1968 and was so taken with it, he bought it for The Old Vic. Two years later Bergman was directing The Old Vic company with Maggie Smith as Hedda:

‘She haunts the stage like some giant portrait by Modigliani, her alabaster skin stretched tight with hidden anguish.’

Milton Shulman, The Evening Standard

As might be expected, the artistic egos of Bergman and Olivier often clashed. Michael Meyer, who translated the play for the 1970 production, recalls:

‘Suddenly Larry said, ‘Oh, Ingmar?’ So Ingmar, who hasn’t been interrupted, I think, in about forty years, turned around and said, ‘Yes Larry.’ Larry said, ‘I’m only suggesting this and you may think this is absolute rubbish…’ And then there was a ghastly hush at this really sort of very melodramatic suggestion. Ingmar said with a pause – no one knows the value of a pause better than Ingmar Bergman – ‘Perhaps, we’ll see,’ and went on directing.’

The production ran from 23 June – 19 December and the reviews were mixed. Maggie Smith was quoted as saying: ‘I wish a woman could review the play. She would understand about Hedda.’

48 years later Bergman has returned to The Old Vic in spirit with Stephen Beresford’s adaptation of Fanny and Alexander in our bicentenary season and as the company prepare to take their final bows, we’re proud to see him return to our stage in this milestone year for us both.

Image credit Zoë Dominic

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