before the party, almeida theatre

Katherine Parkinson & Stella Gonet

It’s been a few weeks since I went to see Before The Party at the Almeida, but  I just haven’t got around to posting a review (in fact there are a few that I have meant to get around to posting that I haven’t yet.  I’ve been too busy ‘going out’ to blog recently!)

Before The Party was written by Rodney Ackland and originally showed at the St Martin’s Theatre in 1949, starring Constance Cummings as Laura.

In the Almeida production, Katherine Parkinson played Laura.  I have to admit that it was this casting that originally caught my eye, as we had recently seen her in Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends, and she had been fantastic.

Her mother was played by Stella Gonet, who I only know from being Beatrice in The House of Elliot (you know, the older, blonde sister who wasn’t the elegant dark-bobbed one that we all wanted to be at the time!)

The reast of the cast were great too, but I have to admit, I didn’t recognise any of the names (although I am sure I probably should have done!).

Before The Party is set in two halves, before two parties on the same day.  The only location is Laura’s bedroom, that the whole family tends to come together in whilst they are getting ready for firstly a garden party at a local family home where ‘anyone who’s anyone’ is going to be.  The second the family themselves are hosting as an impromptu supper party as the garden party suffers from a proper English downpour.

And ‘proper English’ is what it’s all about.  It’s all about society, etiquette and the false veneer of morailty that those of a certain class felt they needed to hide behind at that time.

Laura’s shocking secrets about her marriage and the death of her husband that she has hid from everyone including her family are forced into the open – and the family have to decide how to act both on this, and the fact that she has become romantically involved with an apparent nobody.

The tension on the stage between the characters was very well written, and the claustraphobia of the one location was often felt, especially by Laura who was constantly asking people to leave her alone in her own room.

Fantastic costumes, a brilliant set – the staircase just outside the door was a particularly good touch, and well-written, believable, although not particulalrly likeable characters.  A wonderful (but occasionally uncomfortable) snippet of middle-class English family life in the late 40s.

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