In his lifetime, The Cocktail Party was the most popular of all TS Eliot’s plays, although it has only had a handful of major revivals since the premiere at the Edinburgh Festival in 1949 starring Alec Guinness. Here, Abbey Wright’s stylish revival offers a first glimpse of the main auditorium of the Coronet since The Print Room moved in last year and the faded beauty of Sprague’s theatrical interior lends an esoteric air to Eliot’s complex drama.
The initial comedy, led by Marcia Warren’s valiant charge as the hilariously dotty Julia, satirises the dramatic convention of the period perfectly. As the trajectory of the play shifts into a voluble exploration of the nature of marriage and relationships, Wright’s steadfast direction holds firm thanks to intelligent performances from Richard Dempsey as Edward, Helen Bradbury as his wife Lavinia and Chloe Pirrie as the doomed mistress Celia.
Hilton McRae is almost playful as the Uninvited Guest, brokering the resolution of Edward and Lavinia’s wavering marriage from the psychiatrist’s chair and delivering Eliot’s unobtrusively metered dialogue with hypnotic intensity. Despite its light opening, The Cocktail Party is a difficult play to pitch but Wright’s vision at least makes it fairly accessible to a modern audience.