“I knew you’d pull that sausage out of the sack”
The Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios 2 continues to showcase the work of new directors and now sees Titas Halder taking on the 1900 Strindberg play The Dance of Death, in a new version by Conor McPherson. Edgar and Alice are fast approaching their 25th wedding anniversary but their marriage has grown toxic. On the isolated Swedish island where they reside, life in a cloistered military garrison has turned them in on each other – the 15 years younger Alice bemoans the acting career she left behind, Edgar’s health is failing dramatically and yet they still persist in clashing their embittered selves right up against each other.
Richard Kent’s set design works very well at making the already intimate Trafalgar Studios 2 space even more claustrophobic and visibly demonstrates the decay of the physical environment of this couple, right alongside their mutual emotional neglect. But where the psychodrama of this story frequently calls to mind Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it never really mines similar tragicomic depths. Halder’s production of McPherson’s new version has a keen eye for the desperate comedy of the situation but consequently leaves it a little unbalanced.
Indira Varma’s Alice is flintily sharp, caustically comic whether watching her husband suffer or toying with the affections of the utterly smitten Kurt – Daniel Lapaine in absorbing form – but Kevin R McNally lacks a similar edge as Edgar. His performance is highly humourous but has an avuncular warmth to it rather than evoking a sense of deep passion, whether manifested as sexual charge or violent frustration. Where they excel though is in the establishment of the long-held connection between the pair, one which is reaffirmed in all its twisted glory in the strangely affecting closing moment.