Theatre Review: The Dance of Death

Laced with biting humour, The Dance of Death is August Strindberg’s landmark drama about a marriage pushed to its limits.

Lindsay Duncan recently starred alongside Hilton McRae and Emily Bruni in the UK tour of August Strindberg’s classic play The Dance of Death at the Royal Theate, Northampton. Adapted by oscar-winning writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz, this new revival is cleverly directed by Mehmet Ergen.

The stage is set; period features lace the space with central double doors upstage centre that are murky, distorting any view from the world outside. Barn-door lighting sweeps the ‘ceiling’ casting an eerie shadow over an antique appearing chandelier, and a piano sits, invitingly in the corner of the drawing room. As the audience awaited the action the feeling was pensive as we were invited into the living quarters of this dated home.

In the first scene we learn that Alice, played by Lindsay Duncan and military captain Edgar, by Hilton McRae are fast approaching their 30th wedding anniversary but become locked in battle! During this, we can’t help but laugh as the couple throw insults back and forth. The theme of death is quickly established and tension is amusingly built.

Duncan and McRae both give convincing performances throughout this one act play and have the audience continually questioning who’s side are we on – if we wish to be on any! Laughing warmingly at first at relatable bickers and later watching curiously on at their toxic and disturbing relationship. Both actors provide comic relief with their perfectly placed timing of delivery and well chosen physicality.

A particular highlight was the moment where the piano is played to symbolise further demise and Edgar falls into a trance like state, flailing his arms and prancing around the stage space awkwardly. It was a moment where the auditorium fell silent, not sure whether to laugh or be worried for what was to become.

This love-hate relationship appears to be a perpetuating cycle of insults and animosity that has built over the years and the lighting helped to mimic that feeling; with repetitive uses of similar warm lighting throughout – juxtaposed only in moments of climax where we see green gels used to create a more sinister mood. The intimate auditorium that is the Royal, supported the action and enabled the audience to feel involved – almost intrusive.

This production will certainly have you tentatively questioning the married couple’s motives for long after the play is done…

Can you really dance with death? Step into enemy lines. Edgar is certainly willing to give it a shot!

The tour opened on 31 May, with previews from 19 May, at the Ustinov Studio, Bath, then went on to the Oxford Playhouse, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, before completing its run this week at the Arcola Theatre, London from 28 June – 30 July

Review written by Rachel Carnell: The Travel Locker Press Team