Review: Dance of Death on Northampton stage explores the complexity of people and relationships

Anna Brosnan reviews The Dance of Death at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

By Peter Ormerod
Thursday, 30th June 2022, 9:29 am
Updated Thursday, 30th June 2022, 9:46 am
Hilton McRae (Captain) and Lindsay Duncan (Alice) in The Dance of Death. Photo: Alex Brenner
Hilton McRae (Captain) and Lindsay Duncan (Alice) in The Dance of Death. Photo: Alex Brenner

Many dramatic productions are guilty of painting easy portraits of common human relationships.

As audiences, we recognise the dramatic norms of a standard romance or a messy divorce.

August Strindberg’s play The Dance of Death, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and brought to Northampton’s Royal and Derngate last week, is not one of these. Focused in claustrophobic glory on a relationship between Edgar and Alice, husband and wife, there is a glimpse of truth about it but nothing comfortingly familiar.

Led by a stellar cast of Lindsay Duncan (Alice), Hilton McRae (Edgar) and Emily Bruni (Katrin), The Dance of Death dwells on the hate-filled marriage of Edgar and Alice. Their relationship is peppered with aggressive acts, both passive and direct, constant sniping, blame and regret. Yet there is the tiniest speck of love and dependency between them, tying them together and sewing them into a masochistic existence.

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    Completely played out in a house on the coast (illustrated by a beautifully constructed, domestic set), I confess to at times feeling a little at sea. The expletive-filled banter between the two main characters left me grappling to seize the truth in the characters: which one do we trust? Who is telling the truth? Which is evil and which misunderstood? Is this hate or is it love? Amidst the play’s shifting sands, I concluded there is no continuously correct answer to any one of these questions, just as in life.

    The play is a tough watch - not intended, I believe, to lend emotional satisfaction or high levels of light-hearted entertainment and I am not sure I would seek it out again, but it is an interesting study on a complicated human relationship, played well by a talented cast.

    Lindsay Duncan does a fantastic job in bringing to life some of the dark humour in the play’s lines, particularly the scenes in which she is joyfully anticipating her husband’s death. I only wished there had been even more of this in the play as a whole.

    Dance of Death ran until June 23. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk for details of future shows at the theatre.