The Dance of Death, Ustinov Studio, Bath Theatre Royal and touring

AUGUST Strindberg’s 1900 play The Dance of Death sowed the seeds for a number of important 20th century works, notably Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

It was brought to public notice in the UK by Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre production at the Old Vic in the late 1960s. Now a new version, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, begins a UK tour at the Ustinov Studio in Bath, starring Lindsay Duncan as Alice, her real-life husband Hilton McRae as the Captain and Emily Bruni as her cousin, Katrin.

Grace Smart’s set in the intimate Ustinov is dominated by a pair of massive doors, leading out from the married hell stalked for 25 years by Edgar and Alice. They serve as a powerful reminder of what can go on behind a facade of civilised life.

The adapter has altered the original in several ways, the most noticeable to change cousin Kurt to cousin Katrin and to vastly increase the swearing … no room for blushes or disgusted of Bath here. Just as soon as you think you know what’s REALLY going on, another revelation skews your perspective, and then you  question whether to trust it.

Neither the disappointed actress Alice nor the deeply resentful Edgar has any truck with sob stories, and everyone they encounter is served up as bleeding prey. The unfortunate Katrin has no inkling of how thoroughly she must watch her back.

Is this a marriage started in passionate love which has corroded into deep, dependable hatred, or is it a union of two deeply unhappy and unpleasant people, doomed from thestart.

Mehmet Ergen’s spare production gives not a moment for relaxation. Lindsay Duncan’s Alice is viciously witty, cold and cruel, withered into a wife, the other half of a man whose background has held him back from advancement in a military life he loathes, working with people he despises.

Now the most popular of Strindberg’s plays, it’s a lightning-bolt revelation of what happens when mutual dependency becomes a prison. Toxic, the current word is.


Photographs Alex Brenner

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