27 November 2002
The Lyric Theatre, London
Previews begin 20 February 2003
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From: Kenneth Cohen
Q: My wife and I were thrilled by your performance in Dance of Death.
We almost waited too late but were lucky to be in row 5 for the 2nd to
last matinee! I left the theater with 2 questions: In a role such as this,
where you must clearly become the person you are playing....how much
variation is there from performance to performance in the details of your
gestures, facial expressions, etc.? My second question concerns your slide
down the staircase railing. This seemed to be an especially risky feat of
derring-do! Whose idea was this, how long did it take you to master the
"stunt", and did it ever come up short?
A: You are right, performances do vary, and inevitably. The
essence of "live theatre"Â is that it should live and not risk death by
trying simply to repeat some ideal set of effects or instructions laid
down in the rehearsal room. I have no interest in repetition, preferring
re-creation. Not all actors agree with me and take pride in always being
the same night by night. As each night the actor is 24 hours older and
cannot be the same, this method seems to me perverse.
I took one look at Santo Loquasto's set when Sean Mathias showed
me sketches of it and requested that the dominating staircase (so often a
feature of Mathias's productions) should be strong enough in case we
discovered a moment when the ailing Captain might want to demonstrate his
physical prowess. This I eventually did just before the near fatal attack
at the climax of his triumphant dance in Act One. It was not easy to
maneuver the narrow bannister and I made the mistake of trying to slide
down it backwards. Painful even in a jockstrap. David Strathairn (who
trained as a clown) showed me how to keep my balance by travelling forward
one arm in the air and there were no accidents.
From: John Clifford
Q: In my theater crit course for college, we watched the Olivier film
version of Dance of Death. We were all just about shocked by the third act
(we think it was the third act...beginning with Judith's entrance). The
acts preceding seemed to be a complete play, and neatly resolved at the
end of act 2. Act 3 seemed like another play entirely. Was this something
you or the rest of the cast and crew ever noticed, or tried to work with
in your own version?
A: Olivier's version included Strindberg's sequel unwittily
entitled "Dance of Death part 2". Richard Greenberg's translation for
Broadway went no further than the original first play which, I agree,
concludes very satisfactorily without the appearance of the children and
the Captain's death.
RICHARD GREENBERG'S VERSION
Q: I saw "Dance of Death" on the 31st December and am still stunned by
the performance. What a wonderful way to close out 2001! To me, the twin
themes of the power of denial in the face of decay and complicity in
emotional violence seem at least as relevant today as they would have at
the turn of the last century. Plus I can't recall a funnier, more
extravagant rendering of marital warfare since O'Toole and Hepburn in "The
Lion in Winter". Are there plans to publish Richard Greenberg's smart,
stylish translation? If so, when will it be available? Does Greenberg ever
tackle Part II? And last, but by no means least, thank you for helping me,
certainly, and I suspect a great many others, find the courage not to
apologize for who we are.
A: Richard Greenberg's translation deserves more productions and
an enterprising publisher would have had it ready for sale during the run
at the Broadhurst Theatre. Richard came to our closing performance and
cast party on January 13th (2002) and was very pleased with the
developments that are almost inevitable during an extended season. He
hasn't mentioned part 2 but if anyone could make it work, he could. And
last, thank you.
Q: I tricked friends into "Dance of Death" to see you and Helen Mirren
at a Sunday matinee; and I must say you were fabulous. You were also
robbed of a standing ovation, but I think that is because New Yorkers were
so busy turning their cell phones back on. So this is a fan giving you
that ovation you richly deserve.
A: Broadway audiences do like to show their appreciation at the
end by cheering as well as applauding and sometimes by standing but, as
you saw, not always. I notice that if one or two people close to the stage
stand up (perhaps only to make a speedy exit to recover their coats)
enthusiasts behind them will also get up.
Q: For my 27th birthday, I requested to see "Dance of Death". Being in
the 3rd row from stage, the surprising direction, the excellent
performances and the storyline kept me on my toes! I noticed both yourself
and Ms Mirren glancing at the audience from time to time. I was wondering
how much does the audience effect your live performances.
A: Helen is one of those slyly perceptive performers who can (at
a glance, as you noticed) take in the whole house and then at the
intermission provide entertaining details to her colleagues: e.g. "What
about that guy in his 20's on the 3rd row!"Â On the other hand, whatever
you imagined, I try only to catch the audience's eye if I am talking
directly to them, as when soliloquising in Shakespeare, for example. In
"Dance of Death"Â from the Broadhurst Theatre's proscenium stage, it might
have appeared that Edgar was looking at you, when actually he was
examining something in his mind's eye.
The joy of acting in the theatre is the audience's contribution,
your silence, your coughs, your laughter. More than half our attention is
on your response to our work.
From: James Gelber firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Was your recent performance in D.O.D. more demanding energetically
than some of your earlier work? If so, what, in particular, other than the
obvious (e.g., sleep), did you need to do to re-charge yourself during
A: Strindberg cares for his actors as does Shakespeare and gives
Edgar time to recuperate in the dressing-room between the exertions of
dancing or falling down in a faint. He also (unlike Shakespeare) provides
long passages sitting or even lying down in bed which are very welcome.
Even so, I was invariably exhausted after two hours onstage, probably
because the emotional journey was intense. After each matinee I sometimes
ate and always slept.
During the day, as usual when working in the theatre, I was
mindful (usually about lunchtime) that an evening performance was in
sight. This led me to avoid too much action or even thought. For instance,
if I see a movie on the day of a performance, I find it difficult to
escape its impact in time for my own acting.
Q: You have said that you keep a souvenir from each play you are in.
Did you take anything from "Dance of Death"Â?
A: Yes — early in Act One, Edgar handed over a butcher's bill to
his wife and there was a pile of them in my dressing room, so I took one
of them home.