Following the Donmar Trafalgar season’s opening production The Promise, a tale about one of the longest and most destructive sieges in human history, its successor, Conor McPherson’s new version of August Strindberg’s The Dance Of Death, continues the season’s apparent theme of conflict. Only this time, it is not entire countries at war, but two stubborn and resentful individuals who, with an unwavering defiance like that of 1940s Leningrad, will never surrender.
Edgar, an ageing military captain, and his wife Alice are approaching their silver wedding anniversary, a significant milestone in both of their lives, which marks the 25 years of unrelenting hatred they have always had for each other. When Kurt, the relative who set them up in the first place, walks back into their lives, there’s a chance that he’ll put a stop to their sour and hate-filled marriage for good, but it seems that the tattered stitches holding the pair together are stronger than they thought.
Following in the acclaimed footsteps of Ian McKellen and Frances de la Tour, who played Edgar and Alice in the 2003 London production, Kevin R McNally and Indira Varma bring to life the match made in hell, conveying the duo’s unhealthy married life with the striking clarity that Strindberg observed first-hand from his sister’s relationship with her husband.
Living within the candlelit walls of a former prison – a metaphor for the entrapment of their marriage if ever there was one – Edgar and Alice bicker and bait their way through the two hours of Titas Halder’s intense production, just as they have done for their two decades of wedlock.
Their relationship is laughable, but at least they, themselves, can see that. McNally combines Edgar’s defiant assertiveness with a comic frankness that makes the murderous attempt on his wife’s life more hilarious than alarming, while Varma conjures a feisty and deceiving Alice who, even within her myriad of hatred, finds glimmers of sharp and sarcastic wit.
Not even the loyal kindness or demonic rage of Daniel Lapaine’s Kurt can prise apart these two individuals, who are despised by all those around them as well as each other; their isolated and abhorrent characters providing suitable fixtures in their remote, dilapidated home, which is designed with immaculate detail by Richard Kent.
While they offer little in the way of loving and cherishing, there is no doubt that the unhappy couple at the centre of Strindberg’s black comedy will continue in their state of agreeable misery for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do them part.