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Before the Party review at Almeida London

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Full marks to the Almeida for reviving this brilliantly modulated 1949 play, based on Maugham’s 1926 story about a widow returning from Africa and intent on marrying below her (upper middle) class.

Written as the post-war consensus (and pre-war hierarchies) were crumbling, this unhappy, – and, in his day, neglected – playwright’s distaste for a world of upper class snobbery, solipsism and causal anti-Semitism is barely disguised. But while his vehemently partisan satire frequently wields a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel, some highly-accomplished acting gives full expression to the emotional and comic virtues of a play constantly hovering between farce and tragedy.

As Laura, Katherine Parkinson beautifully captures the despair and resolution of a woman determined not to be caught out with a forced marriage a second time, but the ease with which she glides around designer Anna Fleischle’s gorgeous bedroom set also points to a woman not entirely troubled by the comforts of her upbringing.

Michael Thomas evokes horror and laughter with his portrait of the gruff, dumbly bigoted father, keen to suck up to bishops at social occasions but not averse to black market petrol and June Watson is both warm and hilarious as Nanny.

Stella Gonet too provides many laughs as the skittishly neurotic, self-centred mother Blanche while Michelle Terry is monstrously brittle, bitter and fearful as the jealous and unmarried sister Kathleen. Rodney Ackland’s idea that the very young and idealistic sister Susan represents the only decent source of hope may not be wholly original, but it was still beautifully captured on press night by Emily Lane.

Production Information

Almeida, London, March 25-May 11

Authors
Rodney Ackland (adaptation), W Somerset Maugham (short story)
Director
Matthew Dunster
Producer
Almeida
Cast includes
Katherine Parkinson, Alex Price, Michelle Terry, Stella Gonet, Michael Thomas, June Watson
Running time
2hrs 35mins

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