Dance of Death

Tricycle Theatre, London

The situations in Strindberg are so blatantly primal - all those vampiric gender-battles, all that ruthless and parallel speculation in money and in souls - that plays transplant with ease to other cultures and climes. When, for example Patrick Marber's TV adaptation of Miss Julie relocated the action in an English country house on the night of the Labour Party's landslide victory in 1945, it gave a genuinely fresh and revealing twist to the issue of class and sex arriving from that play's deadly erotic encounter between an aspiring valet and a slumming aristo. And what, after all, is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but Strindberg's shifted from a Swedish fortress tower to a hellhole outpost of American academe?

The set-up Albee snitched from Strindberg - a slugfest of diabolical black comedy between a murderously long-married couple who cast hapless guests as sacrificial piggies-in-the-middle - is now given an Irish slant in Carlo Gebler's new version directed by Nicolas Kent at the Tricycle Theatre. This account takes the uncommon step of including the marginally more hopeful Part II which, in time-honoured fashion, shows a second generation wrestling itself free from inherited patterns.

It's a brave piece of programming in one of the most imaginative and welcoming theatres in London. But, sitting through four-and-a-quarter hours of what is, in essence, an extraordinarily repetitive situation, you'd need to be almost as mad as Strindberg not to feel pretty searing twinges of impatience. Having witnessed the brutal, disappointed Captain (Michael Cochrane) fall down so often in a glassy-eyed fit from which he revives seconds later, refreshed and raring for more revenge, you may begin to dread that he will pull the same trick from his eventual death- posture and trap you there all night.

Part of the problem is a lack of sufficiently twisted intensity. Festering in their Martello Tower in the early autumn of 1913, Mr Cochrane and Marion Bailey as his ex-actress wife seem, at times, to be taking part in a fancy- dress edition of One Foot In The Grave, as rewritten by August O'Strindberg. And whenever the pitch rises from baleful sitcom to melodrama, the result is a sort of wild Hollywood camp that invites laughter they can't then control.

The other problem is that in Mr Gebler's Irish rethink of the piece, the background keeps threatening to turn into the foreground. The marriage is now a mixed one, the religious divide becoming all too obtrusive in the second part, set here on the weekend of the Easter Rising, when - in order to further his revenge against the family of his wife's cousin, Conor (Tim Woodward) - the Protestant captain exploits the anti-Catholic prejudices the revolt is bound to exacerbate.

Where Marber's Miss Julie illuminated both the original play and the shifting post-war Britain of its relocation, Gebler's feels, in its second half, like a piece that is using Strindberg as a pair of crutches for uninspired mediation on divided loyalties in British Ireland. A better pairing would be the first part of Dance followed by Easter, the mystical, schizophrenically different - yet richly complementary - drama he wrote in tandem with it.

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