BEFORE THE PARTY
by Rodney Ackland.
Almeida Theatre Almeida Street Islington N1 1TA To 11 May 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 10 Apr, 1 May 2.30pm.
Audio described 27 April 2.30pm (+Touch Tour 1pm).
Captioned 2 May.
Runs: 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7359 4404 (24 hours).
Review: Carole Woddis 2 April.
Giving a wonderful time.
Rodney Ackland (1908-91) is a writer we do like to keep rediscovering. And rightly so since along with Rattigan, he transmits movements of the human heart with such unbearable, pinpoint poignancy.
It was Richmond’s Sam Walters who first revived interest in Ackland, then living in obscurity in the area, by staging Dark River (1941) at his Orange Tree theatre as early as the mid-1980s followed by a revised version of Ackland’s The Pink Room (1952), re-titled Absolute Hell.
Before the Party, dating from 1949, is based on a Somerset Maugham short story, and fits perfectly with our current vogue for post-war England. Who would have thought rationing and the black market could take on such imaginative lustre or that `make-do’ frocks could look quite so appealing as those for Stella Gonet’s fluffy-headed mother, Blanche Skinner and Michelle Terry’s grumpy, embittered daughter, Kathleen dressed in beguiling black chiffon in respect for the dear departed, Harold?
But therein lies the tale. Harold was not dear though very departed and Maugham/Ackland provide a devastating portrait of the effects of alcoholism and its repercussions in the manner of Harold’s demise, in West Africa, revealed by his wife and Blanche’s elder daughter, Laura.
Before the Party could just as well have been sub-titled ‘Secrets and Lies’. But it could also pass as a complementary piece to Mike Leigh’s play Grief, in piercing reflection of the behaviour of the English middle classes, their snobberies, prejudices and interminable chatter about meals, frocks, and keeping up with the local gentry. `Bad form’ is Kathleen’s favourite criteria by which everything should be judged. Forgiveness however is its underlying theme.
Matthew Dunster’s production, ablaze in period detail in its music and attendant ushers in typical crimson and braided uniforms, also boasts a cast remarkable for its depth (June Watson as Nanny), promise (Polly Dartford as the Skinner’s youngest, most questioning daughter, Susan who worries about sin and punishment) and especially luminosity in Katherine Parkinson’s Laura whose final speech quietly wrings the withers. Quite wonderful.
Laura Whittingham: Katherine Parkinson.
David Marshall: Alex Price.
Kathleen Skinner: Michelle Terry.
Susan Skinner: Polly Dartford/Anna Devlin/Emily Lane.
Blanche Skinner: Stella Gonet.
Aubrey Skinner: Michael Thomas.
Nanny: June Watson.
Director: Matthew Dunster.
Design: Anna Fleischle.
Lighting: Philip Gladwell.
Sound: Ian Dickinson for Autograph.
Video: Mark Thomas.
Dialect: Majella Hurley.
Assistant director: Bethan Dear.
First performance of this performance of Before the Party at the Almeida Theatre, London, March 21, 2013