Friday, 21 September 2018

Tom Conti brings empathy to Before the Party

WRITTEN by Rodney Ackland and based on a short story by W Somerset Maugham, the satirical black comedy Before the Party had a full house and an appreciative audience, with verbal and visual gags at every corner

WRITTEN by Rodney Ackland and based on a short story by W Somerset Maugham, the satirical black comedy Before the Party had a full house and an appreciative audience, with verbal and visual gags at every corner.

We settled into our seats and an easy suspension of disbelief as we were taken back to the post-war austerity and rationing of the late Forties amid the genteel setting of a grand country house.

We meet the Skinner family, who are preparing for an important social occasion, with delightfully dishevelled Aubrey (Tom Conti, also the director) and domineering yet panic-ridden Blanche (Gwen Taylor) at the helm, and their three hot-headed daughters, Laura (Carol Starks), Kathleen (Elizabeth Payne) and little Susan (Eleanor Thorn), each tormented by their own demons.

Laura has just returned from Africa, recently widowed and with a need to unburden herself of a story, while Kathleen despairs at her lack of mourning attire and easygoing spirit, and as Laura?s unhappy story unravels Susan considers the deeper ramifications.

The players then take us on a journey covering everything from the trivial details of etiquette through philosophy and theology and back to high society.

I was excited to see this play knowing Tom Conti and Gwen Taylor had starring roles, and they didn?t disappoint ? appearing among a sympathetic and delicately attuned supporting cast.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the befuddled yet loving Aubrey tries to steer a moral course through various familial revelations while Blanche darts about all over the place in the most amazing wardrobe ensembles (centre stage is a fabulous osprey-feather hat).

Family support is provided by the omniscient Nanny (Laoisha O?Callaghan) and Laura?s new beau, the mysterious David (Peter Sandys-Clarke).

With excellent attention to detail, this nicely paced tale drew us in as it simultaneously built up the tension and gave us light relief.

While it was set in a world before my time, it gave me the impression of being authentic in terms of costume, accents and social attitudes, to great effect.

With a tongue-in-cheek look at societal expectations and aspirations, as the entire family is drawn into a moral quandary and potential scandal, there is still hope that the local dignitaries and gossips can be appeased and social ladders climbed.

This was a hugely enjoyable production and a visit is highly recommended.

Until Saturday (September 12).

Review: Natalie Aldred

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