peep show Actress Emily Bruni talks about her role as Katrin in a new adaptation by Swedish playwright August Strindberg The dance of death at the Theater Royal Bath, then on tour
Emily Bruni trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
His stage work includes: The Model Apartment (Bath Ustinov Studio), King Lear (Shakespeare‘s Globe), before your birth, yes prime minister (Trafalgar Studios), Rubenstein’s kiss (Hampstead Theatre), donkey heart (Former Theater of the Red Lion), Broken glass (Tricycle Theater), Ring Around the Moon (Playhouse Theater), Someone else‘shoes (Soho Theater), After Mrs. Rochester (Shared Experience), and Winter‘s Tale, much ado about nothing, Camino Real and The Spanish tragedy (Royal Shakespeare Company).
Bruni’s TV credits include: Catherine the Great, Personal Affairs, Passerby, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet; Scarlet Pimpernel, Believe Nothing, Metropolis, Peep Show (as series regular Gail Huggins) and Intergalactic.
She also appeared in the movies Do you remember me?, Tamara Drewe, being considered and Intimate Affairs.
What do you think of writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new take on The Dance of Death?
Rebecca has written very cleverly for the actors she works with, especially for Lindsay Duncan and Hilton McRae. The language is very modern and when one is in the field of invention in a new adaptation, the writer always wonders how far to go the new work. We had a small translation of the original with us at all times and stuck to the main points of the story.
How does period decor sit alongside more modern touches?
When you look at the decor, you might walk down a street in East London, albeit an Edwardian one. The mix of era and topicality was intentional. The same goes for costumes, which can be new or retro.
You play as Katrin, a gender-swap of the male character Kurt in Strindberg’s original play written in 1900. What does this mean for your character?
I believe that the gender change 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 on more difficult. It also changes the nature of his relationship with cousin Alice, where we get a camaraderie between two women who share a history of abusive men. Katrin also crosses another line sexually with Alice, venturing into more terrifying ground than Kurt did heterosexually.
Katrin arrives on a remote island to set up a quarantine station. Does this echo the Covid pandemic we are experiencing today?
There is a strong resonance with everything we are going through right now. Rebecca sent me some smart notes about Covid and quarantine which helped me with my character. We are very aware of Covid, as we are all being tested every day. We hope no one gets the virus during the race so the show will not close.
How difficult is it to play Katrin?
This is a difficult part for various reasons. Katrin is religious like Kurt. His actions are propelled by his belief in a 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 someone starts drinking. Katrin’s identity comes from helping others to her own detriment. She needs to rescue and heal. At the same time, she wants to shed light on what happened to her children. She hopes Edgar will give her the answer, while Katrin’s dark side of kindness encourages Alice’s vampiric behavior. Katrin loses her value system in the process and is out of step.
How difficult is it to train your character in an absurd production?
It is a very ambitious piece that does not give answers. In a play by Tennessee William, for example, you ride on an emotional cart that pulls you along. Here you have to take sharp turns and make more intuitive decisions. You need to be more active and collaborative with the writing to be emotionally consistent.
You are currently at the medium-sized Ustinov studio at the Theater Royal Bath. What will it be like to perform the play in different theaters while on tour?
I’m a theater buff, so I’m excited to move to new spaces. Oxford and Cambridge are bigger venues and at the Arcola Theater in London we will be playing almost in circles. It will be interesting to see how it feels to have more people in the room with us. Some of the melodramatic moments might make more sense in larger theaters.
How do you prepare for performances in different venues? Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Laurence Olivier said he just did what he repeated. It gives you room for those nights when there’s that special fizz and things are going well, and helps you carry on when things aren’t going so well.
Most actors include simple rituals wherever they are. Mine is to say hello to the stage and test my voice. I also do transcendental meditation before putting on makeup.
How do you think the public will identify with a more difficult play, compared to a musical or simple?
I hope audiences will be gripped by the story and will be thrilled to know what happens next. Plus, the show is only 90 minutes long with no intermission – roughly the same length as a movie. There seems to be an appetite for shorter jobs since we came back from lockdown, as people’s attention spans have gotten shorter. People will be able to go home for their dinner and maybe have time to discuss the play.
What project are you doing next?
I worked on a 70 minute one-woman show by Matt Wilkinson called Psychodrama. It’s a thriller about an actress under investigation for the murder of a theater manager, while rehearsing an Alfred Hitchcock production. Psycho. Plans for this have been sabotaged by Covid and the closing of theaters. I am happy to say that we are taking the play to the Travers Theater for the Edinburgh Festival this year. It’s a very gripping fast-paced thriller that’s also funny.
Photo credit: Alex Brenner