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Festen review at Almeida London

Based on the first of the Dogme films, which received huge acclaim when it was seen in this country, Festen is, if anything, even more gripping in David Eldridge’s stage version.

It begins with family and guests arriving for the 60th birthday of the brusque and frosty Helge, a Danish businessman who is disappointed in his children, in that Christian and Michael are both in the restaurant business, while his daughter Mette is living with a black man and another daughter has recently committed suicide, for no apparent reason that Helge can see.

But this death is just the tip of a massive iceberg set in motion by the obviously unhappy Christian, who calmly relates, during the congratulatory speeches, that he and his dead sister were regularly sexually abused by his father during their childhood.

This obviously changes the mood of the dinner and provides the major element in the play. What on earth can happen through this ghastly disclosure? The strength of the play is that very little happens, except for brief embarrassment

The glacial Helge neither confirms nor refutes the charge, his wife Helene maintains a unrevealing silence, the non-family guests try to pretend that nothing has occurred and even go through the songs they have sung on similar occasions.

The effect is truly shocking in a way that convinces because of its surprise, the horror brushed aside, to be recollected later, after the silent, uncomfortable breakfast. The director, Rufus Norris, has achieved a marvellous piece of theatre, helped by his inventive designer, Ian MacNeil.

It is matched by some of the most convincing acting to be currently seen in London, Robert Pugh and Jane Asher as Helge and Helene, Jonny Lee Miller as Christian, Tom Hardy as the explosive Michael and a strikingly well cast supporting company.

Production Information

Almeida, London, March 25 to April 24

David Eldridge based on the film and play by Thomas Vinterberg, Mogens Rukov and Bo hr Hansen
Rufus Norris
Almeida Theatre in association with Marla Rubin
Cast includes
Jane Asher, Jonny Lee Miller, Tom Hardy, Robert Pugh
Running time
1hr 50mins