As the soundscape of waves crashes against the desolate ‘tyrant’ filled island known as ‘little hell’, a couple show that the release of death may be kinder than their reality.

© Alex Brenner

The Dance of Death is an ironic name in itself, but it comes to light almost immediately that this is a dark comedy with welcomed laughter. The play shows how isolating and claustrophobic being in the wrong pairing can be. The Dance of Death explores three subjects in how humans be shaped by negativity, manipulation and yearning a sense of control.

As their 30th wedding anniversary approaches, we see Alice (Lindsey Duncan) and Edgar (Hilton McRae) in a relationship that begs the question ‘how has this lasted?’. Through the taunts and recriminations in their marriage true hatred is brought to the forefront. Everyone seems to leave this isolated couple and we are introduced to newcomer, Katrin (Emily Bruni), on the turbulence of which hatred, lies and deceit are conjured.

Oscar-winning playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz yet again brings us a well executed delivery of how words can hold nothingness but the actions can hold all through this adaptation of Strindberg’s absurdist classic. The impact of the story leads to unthinkable twists, firm convictions and undeniable humour. Although variations of this production have been done many times in the past, Lenkiewicz’s version changes the gender of the third person which shifts the dynamic and overturns expectations.

© Alex Brenner

Reuniting with the Arcola Theatre; a space which lends itself to any type of production with a unique feeling of intimacy and perspective, and allowing for good visibility wherever you are positioned. Although not specified the set heavily suggests a time stamp of the 1900s and topical issues such as ‘quarantine stations’ makes it feel more relatable in the unprecedented recent years of the pandemic.

There is minimal use of sound and lighting, which makes the performances feel that much more powerful. Sound design from Daniel Balfour, provides naturalism and transports the audience. This is a show which captures how powerful silence can be, with no need for heavy theatrics to bring it to life.

McRae’s performance of the ‘dance’ is as hypnotising for the audience as it is for the character. Through a vivid impersonation which breaks the fourth wall, McRae stares through us as the audience watched in bewilderment at what we were witnessing. An intense physical theatrical moment that I will forever in-visage.

© Alex Brenner

Although some parts of the play are hard to follow due to the quickly-shifting subjects. The writing of the play is fantastic, bringing an entanglement of lies to the forefront, in which the audience do not know where one lie ends and another begins. The cast say everything with so much conviction that even at the original time of the lie we still do not catch on until we are subsequently informed.

The Dance of Death is the true definition of the power of a play and the credibility of superb casting. This gripping heavily dialogued production is one that requires a certain level of concentration, but you won’t want to look away for a second. I believe those who are familiar with Stridberg’s writing will appreciate this version, however I acknowledge that people who have no preconceptions may find it difficult to follow.

This modernised version of a classic is a gripping portrayal of a dark comedic play which does feel slightly constricted to a niche audience.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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