A theatre is a wonderful place to be. As the lights go down you are transported, brought into someone else’s life and story to spend time to both hear and see their story. Sometimes it can take you even further; you might sit down in a lovely studio theatre in London but moments later find yourself atop a mountain or sitting in a restaurant in Venice.
First published in 1991, Bjørg Vik‘s play won the Norwegian Ibsen Prize, and is now making its UK debut with a translation by Janet Garton. The Journey To Venice takes us into the home of Edith (Annabel Leventon) and Oscar (Tim Hardy) Tellman. They have been married for decades and now in their 80s, look back together on their travel and adventures from when they were young. They recreate these journeys within their flat; climbing mountains, long train journeys, visiting Venice – travelling without moving. With the aid of their old travel footage, hiking gear and sandwiches, they return to those places and memories they hold dear. Under skilful direction from Wiebke Green, this is gorgeously presented, giving moments of sheer beauty. The love the two have for each other is never clearer than when Oscar provides the echo to Edith’s shouts into the mountains, wonderfully understated and soul-stirring. We don’t need to close our eyes to see mountains when we can see the love between them as plainly as any mountain.
It’s a striking and effective contrast with their lives now. Together in their memories, it’s climbing and hiking, but in the here and now, in their 80s and in their small flat, it is full of the problems that come with age; aches and pains and needing help to put on shoes. Edith carries an extra burden as she copes with Oscar’s memory and cognitive loss, taking the load onto her shoulders and keeping it from him, distracting him those times he starts to notice. The sense that she too is facing her own old age points to the isolation this can bring, leaving an impression of loneliness, anxiety and even desperation.
Their travelling routine is interrupted first by the plumber, Christopher (Nathan Welsh), and then the home help, Vivian (Charlotte Beaumont). Slowly the couple bring the two intruders with them on their travels, sharing food and wine and the sights of Venice. The four become one group, a set of friends, on an amazing adventure together, the fact they were strangers just a short time ago soon forgotten.
There is strong and subtle work within Kit Hinchcliffe’s set. The bare walls and disorganised shelves signify how Edith has been forced to sell treasured possessions to pay the bills. The flat might be warm and full of love, but it is also showing its own wear and tear, much like the couple. We are left to imagine their many cats, named for famous composers, that keep the couple company, but Julian Starr’s sound design keeps them around and underfoot.
The Journey To Venice is charming and full of tenderness, with a cast that makes everything feel right, despite the many obstacles Oscar and Edith face. It shows us the best of humanity with heart, humour and charm, moving the audience as it brings us to the mountains and Venice, and to tears. Yet again the Finborough Theatre has shown their remarkable eye for bringing absolute gems to the UK.
Written by Bjørg Vik
Translated by Janet Garton
Directed by Wiebke Green
Sound Design by Julian Starr
Set & Costume Design by Kit Hinchcliffe
The Journey To Venice plays at Finborough Theatre until 25 March 2023. Further information and bookings can be found here.