Review Roundup: BEFORE THE PARTY at the Almeida Theatre

Matthew Dunster directs Rodney Ackland's Before The Party at The Almeida Theatre, which opened on 28 March 2013 and runs until 11 May 2013. Based on a short story by Somerset Maugham, Before The Party has designs by Anna Fleischle with lighting by Philip Gladwell and sound by Ian Dickinson. Dunster's production of Before The Party will be the first in over 25 years.

The cast comprises Stella Gonet (Blanche), Katherine Parkinson (Laura Skinner), Alex Price (David), Michelle Terry (Kathleen Skinner), Michael Thomas (Aubrey) and June Watson (Nanny). They are joined by Polly Dartford, Anna Devlin and Emily Lane who will alternate the role of Susan Skinner.

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Let's see what the critics had to say:

Miriam Zendle from writes: The cast is strong and seasoned, which makes up for many things. June Watson is a particular highlight as the no-nonsense, all-seeing Nanny, and her entrances prove a breath of fresh air, even if she has little to do. Parkinson and Price have convincing chemistry together and Thomas's strong comic timing as blustery Aubrey is much welcomed.

Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard says: Director Matthew Dunster, increasingly a name to watch, milks every last drop of possibility out of Ackland's sparkling 1949 script, which follows a fractious upper-middle-class family through their preparations for an exhausting round of parties. In this post-War Britain, everything is rationed except the strictures of social convention; it's a perfectly conjured world where the right dress is paramount and awkward emotion something to be swept briskly under the sideboard. The dubious death of the husband of grown-up daughter Laura (Katherine Parkinson), recently returned from Africa, must on no account be allowed to interfere.

Michael Billington of the Guardian writes: Matthew Dunster's bright, breezy production papers over the play's cracks with the help of some good acting. Katherine Parkinson brings a note of genuine anguish to the guilt-haunted Laura and there is strong support from Michael Thomas and Stella Gonet as her vacillating parents and Michelle Terry as her repellent sister. But the only character whom Ackland seems wholly to engage with is the family's old nanny, played with admirable common sense by June Watson. Ackland could sympathise with the underdog: his dramatic failing was an inability to get inside the skin of the class enemy.

Libby Purves of the Times says: This 1949 play by Rodney Ackland, based on a Somerset Maugham story and set in commuter Surrey, is a treat... At first it seems as if only the glamorous widow Laura (Katherine Parkinson, in superb form) is a real, complex and suffering human being, so hemmed in is she by social grotesques... Emily Lane on opening night was touchingly fretful in her party frills... One by one the absurd, snobbish, panicking family members with their dreadful values become victims of real emotion, as Laura steels herself to tell the truth to her seemingly insouciant fiancé (Alex Price), who is hiding his own wartime scars. Never a dull moment or a misjudged move. Bliss.

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