16 December 2003
THE STAGE DOOR
Q: My husband, son and I were at the Lyric to see the most perfect
"Dance of Death" I could imagine. Thank you also for taking the time to
sign our programmes after the play. Our son Joe was so thrilled finally to
have met "Gandalf", and to have seen you in another part, and as
"yourself"! Thank you.
A: It is always fun to meet folks at the stage door. All
my best to Joe.
Stage Door at the Lyric, March 2003
CATHARSIS SCENE/ANDY WARHOL
Q: I'd like to congratulate you on Dance Of Death which I saw with two
Swedish friends. I'm Danish from Copenhagen. I very much like the scene
where you are alone and...erm...rearranging the room and the background
music/soundscape works well, sounding like fishing boats going past and
making it all very atmospheric. Second, I recently finished reading Andy
Warhol's diaries, and in one of his last entries (a few weeks before he
died) he mentioned meeting you and commenting that he thought you were
'cute and sexy'.
A: The "catharsis" scene in which Edgar throws out his old life
(the playing cards, the whisky , cigars etc) and then lights up the room
with candles is full of symbolism. Surprisingly it has often been cut in
modern Swedish productions.
I had lunch with Andy Warhol having bought one of his Mick Jagger
portraits for Sean Mathias who was also at lunch. AW ate little and showed
us his necklace of crystals in which he placed much faith.
ON STAGE BEFORE THE PLAY BEGINS
From: firstname.lastname@example.org Vanessa
Q: I thoroughly enjoyed your performance as Edgar in 'Dance of Death',
and thought you and Frances de la Tour were wonderful. It was a nice touch
for Edgar and Alice to be going about their business on stage before the
start of the performance. It suggested to me that the characters could
exist plausibly as real people beyond the boundaries of the play. I
haven't seen that many plays but are there any other instances where
characters appear on stage before the performance?
A: I remember doing it only once before in "Amadeus" on Broadway
when I sat in my wheelchair back to the audience until the lights went
down when I turned round to start the play. In Dance of Death, we
decided that the action should be happening before the audience arrived
the curtain being up. I never like it when the audience has had a chance
to explore the set before the actors arrive on it.
Q: Just to say I saw Dance of Death and found it very
powerful. Your performance was mesmerising. I would imagine its an
exhausting production for you but wonderful for the audience. I shall go
again. Thank you.
A: I know the impression of the evening is that it is an
exhausting one for the three main actors. But as Edgar, I get to sit down
quite a lot during the show even lie down for a bit so I find it
certainly less of an effort than, say, a leading part in Shakespeare. I'm
so pleased you approved.
BROADWAY v. WEST END/CIGAR
From: Jake Eyers
Q: My boyfriend and I went to see "Dance of Death" and were
both completely blown away, so thank you very much for that. How does
acting in the West End differ from acting on Broadway? and having stated
that you have attempted to give up smoking, how does the cigar feel with
each performance of Dance of Death?
A: Broadway audiences are a little more volatile than in London.
They laugh a little louder and tend to leap to their feet at the curtain
call. Backstage New York is more excited too there is a positive theatre
community in central Manhattan where performers are aware of the
ups-and-downs of other shows. In the West End there is less of that sort
of inter-communication. However, Dawn French, next door at the Apollo
Theatre in her one-woman play, dropped by to visit us for a bit of company.
I avoid inhaling the cigar but I enjoy the paraphernalia of
lighting it and dealing with the ash. And the smoke makes sinuous shapes
in the air.
Q: What is the difference between the previews and "the real thing"?
Why are there previews of the show before the opening night?
A: Until the 1960s, plays opening in the West End of London met
the national press at the first public performance. This would have been
preceded by a pre-London tour of some weeks during which a manager could
begin to recoup production costs as a production settled down in front of
regional audiences and provincial critics. The alternative of not touring
is the system of previews where audiences (paying slightly lower prices)
can see a show before the main media whose arrival en masse signifies the
official "first night". So Dance of Death started previewing on 20
February 2003 and opened on 4 March.
From: Josh Darcy
Q: I thought both you and Frances de la Tour were fantastic in "Dance
of Death". I read the play a long time ago, and thought it gloomy and
depressing. Your production however had me in stitches! Strindberg being
funny was a real education to me.
A: Strindberg's reputation as doom-laden mysogynist is not fair.
The director of the Swedish National Theatre said as much when he saw our
production : "At last a non-Swedish production that realises Strindberg
had a sense of humour!" All honour to Richard Greenberg, whose translation
picks up on the staccato lines of the original, akin to the wise-cracking
repartee of old partners (think of Hepburn/Tracey movies where love
underscores the spats and arguments).
Frances de la Tour is an accomplished comedian and can get a
laugh by raising an eyebrow. As she is equally capable of evoking passion
and tears, she is an ideal Strindbergian.
Q: i went to see "dance of death" this april, and actually later on had
the oppertunity to talk to you (whilst you were signing my copy of the
lord of the rings) my father, mother and i had seats in the 3rd row, so we
were able to enjoy the play perfectly. being merely 15 i'm not sure i
understood most of the psychological points of the play, but that didn't
keep me from loving it. my favourite person of the strange trio must have
been edgar. i realized this in the scene with the cat. the way edgar - you
- gently picked up the cat and wrapped it in your vest, was for me the
realization "so the nasty old man is in fact human". thinking back now, i
wonder if it was then that i realized how human he actually was. it might
have been earlier. but it just was that scene that must have touched me
the most. i had to say that.
i arrived at home (vienna) 2 weeks later, with your autograph for my
best friend and shortly later i went to see X-MEN2. somehow, i find the
character magneto/eric the most easy to relate to in x-men. his choices
and concepts are more believeable than those of, for example, wolverine.
that's what i like about x-men, that the bad guy is so agreeable somehow.
my point about magneto is that he reminded me so much of edgar. this might
be some simple illusion, but i wanted to ask you about it. do you feel a
connection between the two? or is it just my teenage mind?
A: So glad you came to see Dance of Death. When I was your
age I was an avid theatre-goer — still am 50 years on! The scene in which
Edgar finds the cat and lovingly carries it offstage has no words to
clarify the playwright's intention: but I think you are right. When Edgar
has had his "near-death experience"Â he recovers some of his humanity, in
his determination to try and live on. By the end of the play (when his
rival Kurt has fled) he is much more loving to his wife than he has
previously been. The little episode with the cat alerts the audience to
his emotional change.
Well perhaps it was me rather than Edgar who you recognised in
Magneto but I agree that he is a humane villain. Indeed the first scene of
X-Men shows where his passionate politics take root.
MIRREN AND DE LA TOUR/CHICHESTER
From: email@example.com Gareth Carr
Q: I was lucky enough to see Dance of Death just before you closed in
London. A wonderful, and disturbing performance. Frances De La Tour
strikes me as being a very different actress to Helen Mirren. Did you find
it to be a very different experience playing the same part in the same
play but with a different leading lady ?
What are your future theatre plans ? Are you ready for Lear yet ? And
do you have any plans to come 'down south' to a venue such as Chichester
or perhaps London again, or will you be heading back to West Yorkshire
Playhouse etc 'up north' ?
A: Much of the satisfaction of doing the play again with a
different cast (Owen Teale replaced Broadway's David Strathairn as Kurt)
was uncovering corners of the relationship between the three main
characters that had laid hidden first time round. That is nothing to do
with quality of performance, rather difference of temperament. Perhaps,
crudely, Mirren concentrated on the theatrical background of Alice, who
gave up the stage for her marriage, and the de la Tour approach which was
to analyse the nature of the love/hate which binds Alice to Edgar.
I worked for Laurence Olivier's fledgling National Theatre
Company in 1965 when it was based at the Old Vic Theatre in London but
each summer played a season of its repertoire in the
Chichester Festival Theatre which he had
earlier opened as artistic director.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org jenny
Q: While attending the last performance of 'Dance of Death' at the
Lyric theatre in June I couldn't help but notice the presence of cameras
both in the theatre and then outside while you were signing autographs.
There was a rumour that it was for The South Bank Show but I have been on
the site and it is not mentioned. I would hate to miss the feature.
A: The recording of Dance of Death happened over the final
three performances, with one fixed camera. So we ended up with three
versions which John Drsicoll (the lighting designer who organised the
shooting) will cut before Sean Mathias makes his final choice. The result
is not for public consumption just a private memento for the actors and
technicians who worked on that production. However, it may be possible for
the South Bank Show who are following me around intermittently for 12
months, to use a short extract for broadcasting. The quality of the
digital camera is superb. So is the acting! at least from de la Tour and