Review Roundup: BEFORE THE PARTY at the Almeida Theatre

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.

Paul Taylor of the Independent writes: 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.

Siobhan Murphy of Metro writes: ...There are fine performances from the cast: Stella Gonet's fretful mother and Michael Thomas's blustering Tory father are tremendous monstrosities, and quite easily imagined (minus cut-glass accents) in the present day. Despite the narrowness of her role as shrewish spinster sister Kathleen, Michelle Terry is commanding and quite often scene-stealing on stage. But the real stand-out is Katherine Parkinson as Laura, caught in the maelstrom of snobbery, hypocrisy, blind self-interest and downright cruelty that whirls around her. Her faltering delivery, teetering between suppressed fury and deep sadness, adds depth and poignancy to her character's plight.

Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph writes: This is an evening of chic period style and sharp satirical substance. Bringing the tale into the realm of ration-book Britain, with all its illicit cravings and imperial hangovers, Ackland delivers a rebuke to hypocrisy and overbearing propriety, tendencies which, let's face it, have hardly vanished from view. If you're only scoffing at the Skinner household as it faces an inconvenient bombshell moment ahead of an afternoon gArden Party and not looking closer to home, then you're rather missing its enduring, darkly comic point.

West End Whingers writes: ...If you don't feel you want to spend an evening with this fairly dreadful bunch then think again. We were thoroughly absorbed by it all. Director Matthew Dunster has pulled it all together admirably. The casting's first class with top notch acting across the board(s). Gonet is wonderful and very amusing. She could and should corner the market in distracted, self-absorbed snobbish mothers. There's also an eminently sensible family nanny played by the eminently watchable family retainer expert June Watson.

David Benedict of the says: Cut-glass accents and behaviour are exaggerated to the point of caricature. Almost no-one talks when they can bray and no-one appears to have met an emotion they did not underline and hurl at each other. Everything lurches between Brief Encounter on fast-forward and over-emoting for Britain. As unhappy Kathleen, Michelle Terry is dressed to look like an icy Meredith Frampton portrait, but when you see an actress of this calibre reduced to quite literally quivering with jealousy - Look! She's seething! - you know something's gone badly wrong. Stealth has been replaced by a sledgehammer.

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