Review: Dance of Death

Malthouse Theatre

Until May 19th

It isn’t often that you get to see a leg of roast chicken fly across a theatre set and slide grotesquely down a pane of glass in front of you. It isn’t often that you get to witness twelve rounds of carnal and verbal boxing on stage, featuring swordplay, dancing, and swearing too crass – even for Lot’s Wife. In fact, it isn’t often that you get to see a piece of sophisticated theatre performed within the confines of a six-by-three glass cage.

Swedish playwright August Strindberg scripted the original Dance of Death in 1900. In the words of Malthouse director Matthew Lutton, it was first slaughtered by Friendrich Düerrenmatt, in the 1960s then butchered (that is, translated to English) by Tom Holloway for the eventual purposes of this particular performance.

Each version has, in one way or another, depicted the hellish results of twenty-five years of marriage upon Alice and Edgar, who live in an ominous tower on an isolated island. Tension is high as the monotony of a passionless life takes its toll. The arrival of Kurt, a wealthy cousin, throws the scenario into further disarray, not least because Alice rekindles a frenzied (albeit incestuous) affair with him. Meanwhile Edgar seems to be suffering his gradual demise despite his insistence that he’s “good for another twenty years”.

In its current Malthouse-flavoured state, Dance of Death is as sharp as a blade and as black as tar. The performance consists of an hour and forty-five minutes of fierce repartee and baffling physical acting. Belinda McCoy handles Alice, a former “adored actress of the stage”, with energetic poise and articulacy. David Patterson’s Kurt is polite and composed while maintaining an air of cool enigma. The show is most definitely stolen by Jacek Koman. Koman is a mesmerising actor. The ease with which he seems to balance Edgar’s virility and embitterment with candidness and humanity contributes to one of the finest performances I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s the staging that takes Dance of Death to another level, though. Designed by Dale Ferguson, the stage is in traverse (which means it’s in the centre of the audience, with people watching from both sides), and barricaded off with solid glass on all sides. All three actors are essentially trapped in a fish tank; objectified more than performers are already, like animals in a zoo – or fighters in a boxing ring. Not once do they leave the arena before the end of the show. Not once do they slip out of character. Not once is an audience member unengaged or unimpressed.

Often uproarious, usually ferocious, and always disarmingly witty, Dance of Death is a magnificent piece of theatre.

Tickets are around $30 for a concession (totally worth it) and can be purchased online HERE ( There are only two weeks left of the season, so get on down to Malthouse ASAP.

Hannah Barker

The author Hannah Barker

Hannah Barker has been writing strange short fiction and questionable social commentary since well before the turn of the century. Aside from a self-proclaimed penmonkey, Hannah is a traveller, a theatre geek, an Arts student, an idealist, and a raconteur. A bit of a wanker, really, but a good egg nonetheless.

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