Interview: Emily Bruni Talks THE DANCE OF DEATH, Theatre Royal Bath

Peep Show's Emily Bruni on a challenging role in Strindberg's black comedy.

By: Jun. 05, 2022
Interview: Emily Bruni Talks THE DANCE OF DEATH, Theatre Royal Bath

Peep Show actress Emily Bruni discusses her role as Katrin in a new adaptation of Swedish playwright August Strindberg's The Dance of Death at Theatre Royal Bath, and then touring

Emily Bruni trained at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Her stage work includes: The Model Apartment (Bath Ustinov Studio), King Lear (Shakespeare's Globe), Before You Were Born, Yes Prime Minister (Trafalgar Studios), The Rubenstein Kiss (Hampstead Theatre), Donkey Heart (Old Red Lion Theatre), Broken Glass (Tricycle Theatre), Ring Round the Moon (Playhouse Theatre), Someone Else's Shoes (Soho Theatre), After Mrs Rochester (Shared Experience), and The Winter's Tale, Much Ado About Nothing, Camino Real and The Spanish Tragedy (Royal Shakespeare Company).

Bruni's television credits consist of: Catherine the Great, Personal Affairs, Passer By, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet; The Scarlet Pimpernel, Believe Nothing, Metropolis, Peep Show (as series regular Gail Huggins) and Intergalactic.

She's also appeared in the films Remember Me?, Tamara Drewe, Being Considered and Intimate Affairs.

What do you think of writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz's new version of The Dance of Death?

Rebecca's written in a very smart way for the actors she's working with, particularly for Lindsay Duncan and Hilton McRae. The language is very modern and when you're in the area of invention in a fresh adaptation, the writer's always questioning how far to take the new work. We had a little translation of the original with us at all times and we stuck to the main story points.

How does the period setting work alongside more modern touches?

When you look at the set you could be walking down a street in East London, even though it's an Edwardian setting. The blend of period and up-to-date was intentional. The same applies to the costumes, which could be new or retro.

You play Katrin, a gender swap from the male character Kurt in Strindberg's original play written back in 1900. What does this mean for your character?

I believe the gender switch changes some aspects of the story. In the original play Kurt is separated from his children due to a divorce. As a woman, losing her children makes Katrin's ability to move ahead more difficult. It also changes the nature of her relationship with cousin Alice, where we get camaraderie between two women who share a history of abusive men. Katrin also crosses another border with Alice sexually, venturing into more terrifying terrain than Kurt did heterosexually.

Katrin arrives on an isolated island to set up a quarantine station. Does this echo with the Covid pandemic we're experiencing today?

There's a strong resonance with everything we're going through right now. Rebecca threaded some smart notes on Covid and quarantine to me, which helped me with my character. We're very aware of Covid, as we are all tested every day. We're hoping no one contracts the virus during the run, so the show won't close.

How challenging is it playing Katrin?

It's a challenging part for various reasons. Katrin is religious like Kurt. Her actions are propelled by her belief in predetermined death and a sense of goodness. She has a strong moral compass.

Why doesn't she leave Edgar and Alice, and the island sooner?

Why does Katrin stay in such a hostile environment? It's like asking why does someone turn to drink. Katrin's identity comes from helping others to her own detriment. She needs to rescue and heal. At the same time, she wants to get to the bottom of what happened to her children. She hopes Edgar will give her the answer, while the dark side of Katrin's goodness encourages Alice's vampiric behaviour. Katrin loses her value system in the process and is out of step.

How hard is it to form your character in an absurdist production?

It's a very ambitious play that doesn't give answers. In a Tennessee William's play, for instance, you get on an emotional cart that pulls you along. Here, you're required to take sharp turns and make more intuitive decisions. You need to be more active and collaborative with the writing to be emotionally coherent.

You're currently at the medium-sized Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal Bath. What will it be like putting the play on in different theatres when on tour?

I'm a theatre nerd, so I'm excited at the thought of moving to new spaces. Oxford and Cambridge are bigger venues and at the Arcola Theatre in London we'll be playing almost in the round. It will be interesting to see what it will feel like having more people in the room with us. Some of the melodramatic moments might make more sense in larger theatres.

How do you prepare for performances in different places? Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Laurence Olivier used to say that he just did what he rehearsed. This gives you room for the nights when there's that special fizzle and everything goes well, and helps you carry on when things don't go so well.

Most actors include simple rituals wherever they are. Mine include saying hello to the stage and testing my voice. I also do transcendental meditation before I put on my make-up.

How do you think audiences will relate to a more challenging play, compared to a musical or straightforward comedy?

My hope is that audiences will be gripped by the story and will be excited to know what's going to happen next. Also, the show is only 90 minutes without an interval ­- about the same length as a film. There seems to be an appetite for shorter works since we've returned from lockdown, as people's attention spans have shortened. People will be able to get home for their dinner and maybe have time to discuss the play.

What project are you doing next?

I've been working on a 70-minute one-woman show by Matt Wilkinson called Psychodrama. It's a whodunnit about an actress under investigation for the murder of a theatre director, while rehearsing a production of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Plans for it were scuppered by Covid and theatres closing. I'm happy to say we're taking the play to the Travers Theatre for the Edinburgh Festival this year. It's a very gripping fast-paced thriller that's also funny.

The Dance of Death runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until June 4, and then tours to Oxford Playhouse, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Royal & Derngate Northampton and London's Arcola Theatre to July 30

Photo Credit: Alex Brenner


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