This bleak, Beckettian comedy is as funny as it is disturbing, not least because of a scene involving a lot of dead fish.
Frances Poet seamlessly adapts Strindberg’s The Dance of Death I with a Scottish twist (she ignores Strindberg’s Swedish setting and his imaginatively named sequel Dance of Death II). In her version, Alice (Lucianne McEvoy) and The Captain (Tam Dean Burn) live on an island off the coast of Scotland. They use binoculars to spy on the mainland and bitterly discuss the ceilidh dance there, to which they weren’t invited. Then Alice’s cousin Kurt (Andy Clark) visits. The couple bully him into spending the evening with them, ostensibly to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. In fact, Kurt soon becomes a pawn in the toxic dance of their marriage.
Picture the circle studio of the Citizen’s Theatre, the stage covered in thick boards of driftwood. The Captain, in a purple silk waistcoat, is lying down while Alice, in a lush green ball gown, reads a book. We hear waves lapping in the distance, the cry of gulls, and a male voice reads out ‘The Owl and the Pussy-Cat’. This nonsense poem introduces some of the play’s key themes: dancing, marriage and stylised repetition. But Alice and the Captain have a far more sinister relationship than the poem’s titular characters.
Director Candice Edmunds replaces Strindberg’s sabre dance with the Highland dirk dance. Only instead of a blade, the Captain leaps across the boards wielding a spoon. This isn’t straight comedy though. In fact, this is one of the most disturbing, effective scenes in the play. Alice and Kurt beat out a rhythm on boxes, they stomp and clap with increasing mania, hoping The Captain will have yet another heart attack.
Alice refuses to leave him. Why be a whelk or a winkle when you can be a limpet? She compares herself to the latter, saying they have a heroic tenacity. The script overflows with surreal, exquisite oceanic imagery. Picture a glass of half sparkling puffin piss, or brine freezing into brinicles, burying into your core. McEvoy tends to get the most vivid lines. She gives a relentlessly vicious, often hilarious performance. Burn’s delivery, however, is stylised to the point of being hammy, not to mention far too loud for the intimate space of the circle studio. Clark is suitably hapless as Kurt. Disturbed by their poisonous marriage at first, he is soon drawn into the couple’s twisted world and seduced by Alice. Unsurprisingly, the couple chew him up and spit him back out.
At the end of the play the couple remove one of the driftwood boards and pull handfuls of fish from beneath the stage, gorging themselves and laughing manically (The Revenant, anyone?). They raise their glasses, filled with salt water, to their silver wedding anniversary. As Kurt says, ‘Rottweilers are very affectionate, in the end’.
- By Frances Poet
- Adapted from August Strindberg
- Director: Candice Edmunds
- Cast includes: Tam Dean Burn, Lucianne McEvoy and Andy Clark
- Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow
- Until 7 May 2016
- Review by Saskia McCracken
- 27 April 2016