Review by Paul Nelson
AUGUST Strindberg, a disturbed man by anyone's standards, is
still, I think, the most exciting writer to ever come out of Sweden.
A man who had three wives, and a misogynist at that, is the only
man to have been capable of writing The Dance of Death, currently
being brilliantly performed at the Lyric in Shaftesbury Avenue.
To begin with, there is one of the best sets I have seen in years,
and added to that, considering the play is almost constantly in
candlelight, a brilliant lighting plot. Just to look at it is
breathtaking. Shadows, darkness, daylight and lightning, all are
Edgar, a Captain, and Alice, an actress who never really made
it, she gave up her career to marry Edgar, live out a life of
mutual hatred, a marriage created in hell. They live on an island,
as physically isolated as they are isolated in their marriage.
It is only when Edgar's domineering attitude finally collapses
through illness that the very idea of love emerges in the play.
There have been many versions of Danses Macabre, pictures, music,
plays, but I think this to be the best. It is erudite, definitive,
and in the adaptation by Richard Greenberg, surprisingly modern
and even more delightful than any other production of the play
I have seen.
Delightful? I hear you ask. Two people in middle years tied together
in a loveless hate-filled marriage?
Yes, it is a wonder to watch as the couple are played by no less
than Ian McKellen and Frances de la Tour. Their relationship is
perfectly told and both actors rise to the occasion served up
to them by the original author and the adaptor. The director is
not to be sneezed at either.
I have always admired McKellen. I have never seen him better.
Here he struts about like a Wilfrid Lawson with a very short military
haircut and rasping voice. I have had reservations about de la
Tour, I always thought of her as a 'Hampstead actress', she has
now banished my prejudice.
To watch these two shake the play to small pieces that are completely
palatable is a miracle. I am certainly going to go again.
The family friend and eventual lover of Alice is played with
unsurety by Owen Teale. He need not worry. By the time of his
first entrance, he is entering a boiling cauldron of marital nuclear
fission, all covered up by the façade of the period, he
is a walking success, sure to charm.
I tell you, this play must not be missed.
In a tiny part is one of my most favourite actresses. Ann Firbank
shines as always, and the managers of the productions in the West
End should consider her carefully. She dominates the few scenes
in which she appears.
However, it is to McKellen and de la Tour we must doff our caps.
They bring this grim play to a height I do not think it could
ever have achieved without them.
The Dance of Death by August Strindberg in an adaptation by
Richard Greenberg, directed by Sean Mathias, Designed by Robert
Jones, Lighting by Jon Driscoll, Sound by Fergus O'Hare, WITH:
Ian McKellen (Edgar), Frances de la Tour (Alice), Owen Teale (Kurt),
Hayley Jane Standing (Jenny), Ann Firbank (Maja). Produced by
David Aukin, Karl Sydow, Peter Toerien & Act Productions at
the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1.