Bold, inventive, witty, funny and sad… Terry Johnson’s play about legendary cinematographer and director Jack Cardiff is all of those things, and more!

Enter a garage somewhere in the Cambridgeshire countryside, which has been turned into a makeshift ‘memorabilia’ stage cum retreat by Jack Cardiff’s son Mason (Oliver Hembrough). Right at the opening we see Mason and his dad Jack (Robert Lindsay) bickering over light and space and what have you, until it becomes clear rather quickly that Jack Cardiff suffers from dementia and constantly mistakes the garage either for the local pub round the corner… or a movie set from yesteryear. Cue for some funny misunderstandings but sad and poignant as well: Jack can’t even find the way to the pub anymore. Enter Lucy (Victoria Blunt) – a young care-in-the-community worker who has plenty of enthusiasm but lacks the necessary experience. Nonetheless she needs the job badly and over the course of the first act reveals details about her own personal family tragedies. Being of the tender age she is, Lucy doesn’t have a clue when it comes to the vintage classics Jack has worked on, in fact she admits to not liking old films, as they are ‘too long’ and with unrealistic endings. Jack explains some of his famous camera tricks to Lucy, pointing at some old apparatuses standing in the corner. Later on, Lucy tries to help him typing a book (his memoirs) but that of course is a challenge-and-a-half – much to the despair of Jack’s long-suffering son Mason. Joining the small group is Jack’s equally long-suffering wife Nicola (Tara Fitzgerald) who met Jack many moons ago in her capacity as a PA.

Jack’s birthday is approaching and Nicola presents him with a prism – his favourite ‘toy’ as far as creative camerawork goes. Of course, only a short while later he has already forgotten who gave him the prism. Thanks to stage magic and trickery, we are then transported back onto the set of ‘The African Queen’ – with Fitzgerald and Hembrough doubling as Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart – and Jack Cardiff engaging in a personal dialogue with Katharine over her love to Spencer (Tracy), thus revealing private aspects of Cardiff’s life. A little later, the scene changes again and we have Blunt doubling as Marilyn Monroe, mirroring a dialogue which took place earlier on in the garage between the old Jack Cardiff and care worker Lucy, while Hembrough briefly appears as Arthur Miller. As Jack delves ever deeper into his past glory and clearly cannot differentiate between past and present, Nicola and Mason argue over the best way to keep him in the real world while Lucy suggests it might not be such a bad idea to play along with his many excursions into his past – discovering all the wonderful film’s he’s worked on in the process. Alas, where there is light there is shadow and the play ends with his own personal shadow looming over an expertly lit ocean.

This is a wonderful homage to the genius that was Jack Cardiff – a man that won several ‘Oscars’ for his inventive camera techniques and his ground breaking use of light while as a director, he won several awards for his adaptation of ‘Sons and Lovers’ by D. H. Lawrence. At the same time, the play touches on the human condition and of course the tragedy that is dementia without ever being patronising. Robert Lindsay gives a stellar performance as the increasingly confused Cardiff while Tara Fitzgerald equally impresses with a multi-faceted performance. Both Victoria Blunt and Oliver Hembrough offer very impressive support.

PRISM runs until Saturday Nov 2nd (

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan