Photo from Program of The Dance of Death
(cover image by Daniel Boud)
I hate theatre. Well that’s not exactly true. It is my second love. But sometimes I convince myself I hate it. It can be pretentious, ‘wanky’ and downright boring. Especially after a long year of performing and touring. I want out. So, I go about my daily life. Coffee, walk, friends, grandchild, markets, even local Christmas shopping before I walk up Elizabeth Street and turn into Belvoir Street, Surrey Hills.
I’m in for a pleasant, no that’s not true, sensational surprise this afternoon as I front up to Belvoir’s last play of the year, The Dance of Death by August Strindberg (1900). Sounds dull? Yes, it could have been except for Colin Friels who created such intensity and contrast on stage I couldn’t take my eyes off him. And Judy Davis’s cheeky and fierce direction with a team of sensational creatives (Brian Thomson, Matthew Scott, Paul Charlier,Nigel Poulton, Thomas Egan). Not to mention Pamela Rabe’s kaleidoscopic portrayal of Alice. But I really want to talk about the play, and about the ideas of the play.
In the director’s notes, Strindberg said “I have now worked myself through and out of the woman question…Ibsen and Kielland have nothing to teach me, two ignorant women’s writers”… well that floored me. What is a ‘women’s writer’ anyway? And how clever of him to work himself through half the population! Luckily, I did not read this until after the play. I walked away from the performance intrigued with lots of questions about the play’s relevance to now. And I think it is extremely relevant. I think our society has fallen into patterns of behaviour that inhibit our growth. We are caught up in a wheel of progress that is not going anywhere. Fear and desperation to succeed has thwarted us,and like the characters in the play, we perform our roles of quiet (well, in this case not so quiet) anguish knowing full well that unless we step out (over the bridge, beautifully realised by Brian Thomson’s set) and move on, nothing will change.
My thoughts keep coming back to Colin Friels. His character played enormous games, but was transparent as he played them. Friels seemed to finely balance the emotional depth of his character with high antics. A chameleon of sorts, I found him intriguing. He seemed to possess an embodied understanding of naturalism and expressionism (two terms lifted from the Director’s Notes) almost simultaneously. It made for riveting theatre.
Thank you Belvoir, thank you creatives, cast and crew of The Dance of Death. I think this play is a must see for everyone who has had a long term relationship and that's most of us. I will think about it for some time. That, I believe, is a true indication that something has worked. Well. More than well.