Strindberg's Totentanz at Berliner Ensemble

August Strindberg's Play of 1900

By: - Mar 11, 2023

Totentanz, by A. Strindberg, at Berliner Emnsemble

August Strindberg's "Totentanz" had its opening in Berlin at Bertolt Brecht's famed theater, the Berliner Ensemble. Written in 1900 it is one of those plays that lets one shudder about the senselessness and cruel relationship some couples endure and call it a marriage.

It is the story of Alice (Claude De Demo) and Edgar (Marc Oliver Schulze) a couple that escaped into a lonely existence somewhere on an isolated island. What keeps them alive in their spaceship of a home, are their vicious fights. It is a competition of who can hurt the other more in their dialogues. Even their old friend Kurt (Gerrit Jansen) cannot stop this diabolical game when he comes to visit. He seems to crouch away and eventually escapes. He is the lucky one, the audience has to endure this dance longer. There is no way out, it will end only in death - that is yearned for by the couple.

Kaye Voges directed this almost unbearable play in mercilessly focusing on the two tortured souls. He keeps them trapped in a surrounding that is reflecting a space-capsule in a dilapidated state. This stage setting by Daniel Roskamp is very effective in increasing the sense of despair surrounding the action on stage. But it is also too massive, almost diminishing the impact of the psychological sufferings by the couple. Alice and Edgar go on in a hopeless and senseless 'dance' of destructing actions until death will eventually relieve them from their suffering.

Strindberg's play is considered a first in exposing and showing such deep psychological struggles on stage - to be followed later by Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett. The production at the Berliner Ensemble would have had an even bigger impact than the accomplished one, if the monumental stage setting had not made it hard to show more supple and slight undertones of the psycho-war between the couple. It remains an 'in-your-face' production, good but psychologically wanting.