Theatre review: Before the Party, Almeida, London
Sheer, spiky bliss
Monday 01 April 2013
Once the audience gets onto its wavelength, there are yelps of scandalised and delightedly incredulous laughter throughout Matthew Dunster's miraculously well-acted revival of this forgotten 1949 gem by Rodney Ackland.
This was a dramatist who was much tougher-minded, unconventional and influenced by the Russian way with tragicomedy (he adapted Bulgakov) than most of the other playwrights who were sidelined by the Royal Court revolution. His career effectively ended in 1952, when he was 44, with the disastrous (and unconscionable) critical reception of The Pink Room, his play set amongst the Bohemian flotsam and jetsam in a Soho drinking club in that strange period between VE Day and the Labour victory.
Before the Party is, contrastingly, set in leafy Surrey amidst the well-heeled middle-classes in 1949. Rationing is a bore, where those needful treats are concerned, but you can can get foie gras sent from America (“you mustn't spoil it for me by telling me how it's made”). And there are ways round the petrol restrictions which is just as well for the Skinner family who are preparing to go a social climbing lunchtime function that the strenuously huffy-stuffy lawyer father (Alex Price) can't afford to miss. He's up in front of the Conservative Party selection committee on the Monday.
Then, though, everything starts to go wrong. One of his daughters, back from Africa, insists on wearing pink rather than mourning and then, with Katherine Parkinson brilliantly using that built-in equivocation in her voice between chuckle and sob, she is goaded into telling them part of the devastating real reason she's a widow. Michelle Terry is hilarious as his other daughter whom romantic jealousy has turned into a glowering career snitch, prognathous of jaw, whose designs on the Golf Club hierarchy look equally doomed. Cook (apparently an unreconstructed Mosleyite) has locked one of the maids in a cupboard simply for being a Jewess. Oh and both the 13 year old daughter (excellent Emily Lane) and June Watson's movingly forthright elderly Nanny may have overheard the terrible revelation.
Part of the comedy flows from the way that, even when talk of murder, suicide, antisemitism et al silences this crew for a moment, heartless self-interest and fixation with social standing assert themselves afresh with undiminished vigour. The prejudices are ventilated with an outrageously blithe take-it-for-granted air. Stella Gonet is beyond praise as the mother who keeps up a running on what it is all doing to her stomach and director Dunster retains wondrous control of the play's calculated but tricky waverings of mood. Sheer spiky bliss.
To 11 May; 020 7359 4404
Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
The battle for control of Stieg Larsson's £30m legacy
Arts & Ents blogs
Heavy rain and years of 'benign neglect' may have caused Apollo Theatre roof collapse
Christmas TV guide 2013: Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
Justin Bieber isn't retiring from music after all
The Harry Hill Movie, film review: Screenplay isn't so much offbeat as utterly feeble
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe over immigration
- 1 Tim Sherwood challenges Daniel Levy to set out vision for Tottenham Hotspur’s future
- 2 French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 #Teamnigella: It’s the only side to be on
- 5 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- < Previous
- Next >