Skip to main content

Before the Party


Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

“It’s always been traditional for the aristocracy to hobnob with the working classes,” says  ghastly toff Aubrey Skinner in the second half of Rodney Ackland’s 1949 play, adapted from a short story penned in 1926 by W. Somerset Maugham. As real-life little Britain plc seems intent on  taking a lurch back in time to days of ration books and everyday racism both below and above stairs, Skinner’s observation inadvertently predicts the ongoing folly of Brexit that has seen similarly unholy alliances.

Ackland’s play is set entirely in the bedroom of Laura Skinner, the clan’s widowed elder sister who has made a prodigal’s return with new man David in tow. Laura has landed as the family prepare to attend a garden party held for the Surrey society set. While Laura dresses boldly in pink, her mood is as dark as her sister Kathleen’s is brittle. The social niceties the family shrouds themselves in can’t disguise the feeling that an entire world of post-war certainty is about to cave in on the Skinners, and that Laura’s escape is doomed from the start.

It’s as if Chekhov had been rewritten for the English middle classes in Gemma Fairlie’s meticulously turned out production, led by a remarkable Kirsty McDuff as a defiantly blank Laura, who retains a steely stillness throughout the turmoil she kickstarts. With Deirdre Davis’ matriarch Blanche keeping up appearances, it’s left to Fiona Wood’s kid sister Susan to really question the things that matter.

Amid the colonial hangover, there lingers too an increasingly highly-strung patina of snobbery, hypocrisy and a grubby and all too recognisable desperation to protect one’s own no matter what. As Susan’s final gesture pre-dates a punky but reactionary nihilism to come, it reveals a play crying out for the sort of radical reinvention Sarah Phelps has brought to her TV adaptations of Agatha Christie. As it stands, Ackland’s play still can’t help but chime with the times.

The Herald, July 28th 2018

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Peter Brook – The Prisoner

Peter Brook is no stranger to Scotland, ever since the guru of European and world theatre first brought his nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, to Glasgow in 1988. That was at the city’s old transport museum, which by 1990 had become Tramway, the still-functioning permanent venue that opened up Glasgow and Scotland as a major channel for international theatre in a way that had previously only been on offer at Edinburgh International Festival.
Brook and his Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord company’s relationship with Tramway saw him bring his productions of La Tragedie de Carmen, La Tempete, Pellease et Mellisande, The Man Who…, and Oh Les Beaux Jours – the French version of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – to Glasgow.
Thirty years on from The Mahabharata, Brook comes to EIF with another piece of pan-global theatre as part of a residency by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, which Brook has led since he decamped to Paris from London in the early 1970s. The current Edinburgh residency has alr…

Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Comes to Glasgow

Open-air Shakepeares are a summer-time perennial of the theatre calendar, attracting picnicking audiences as much as midges. More often than not, such romps through the grass are frothy, heritage industry affairs designed to be accompanied by strawberries and cream and not to be taken too seriously. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company look set to change such perceptions when they open their outdoor tour of Romeo And Juliet in Glasgow next week as part of the West End festival.

For the two young actors taking the title roles of the doomed lovers, it will also be something of a homecoming. Richard Madden and Ellie Piercy both studied in Glasgow prior to turning professional. Indeed, Madden has yet to graduate from the acting course at RSAMD, and, as well as facing the pressures of playing such a meaty role in close proximity to the audience, will have the added anxiety of being assessed and graded by his tutors.

“This is the end of my third year,” says Madden following a Saturday mornin…

Suzy Glass – Message from the Skies

Freedom of movement matters to Suzy Glass, the arts and events producer currently overseeing the second edition of Message from the Skies.This animated literary derive around the city forms part of this year’s Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme, and runs right through till Burns’ Night. Glass’ concerns are inherent in the event itself, which has commissioned six writers from different disciplines and experiences to each pen a love letter to Europe. Each writer has then paired up with a composer and visual artist or film-maker, with the results of each collaboration projected in monumental fashion on the walls of one of half a dozen of the capital’s most iconic buildings.
With venues stretching from the south side of Edinburgh to Leith, and with one city centre stop requiring a walk up Calton Hill, there is considerable legwork required to complete the circuit. It shouldn’t be considered a race, however, and audiences are free to move between venues at their leisure, visiting each site on d…