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Before the Party review at Salisbury Playhouse – ‘a handsome revival’

Bathsheba Piepe and Matthew Romain in Before the Party at Salisbury Playhouse

Awful families have always made for great theatre. The craven, social-climbing Skinners in W Somerset Maugham’s short story Before the Party are no exception. There’s hardly a character you don’t want to slap.

The problem that any modern revival of Rodney Ackland’s 1949 adaptation faces is fusing its social satire of the upper middle classes with its wildly melodramatic revelations, without overplaying either hand.

Director Ryan McBryde’s handsomely-mounted production unapologetically gives both elements full rein. His cast don’t hold back and the whole thing veers uneasily between tense, emotional showdowns and farcical double-takes. There are tears, tantrums, recriminations and whiskey consumption in abundance.

But at nearly three hours, it never justifies its length. There are a lot of scenes of shouting.

Philip Bretherton heads up the Skinner household as the blustering lawyer with political aspirations and Sherry Baines plays his vain, delusional wife. Katherine Manners plays bitter, judgemental daughter Kathleen to the vindictive hilt while Eleanor Bennett’s precocious pre-teen pouts and flounces.

Bathsheba Piepe, as widowed daughter Laura, returning from West Africa carrying the secret of her husband’s death, benefits from moments of introspection and sincerity. Her unsuitable suitor is given a rakish insouciance by Matthew Romain.

Roberta Kerr’s no-nonsense Nanny, dealing with a kitchen full of Nazis below stairs, comes as welcome relief from the snobbery, hypocrisy, jealousy and malice that fills designer James Turner’s envy-green set.

Verdict
An uneasy fusion of farce and melodrama given a handsome revival

Production

Production
Before the Party
Venue
Salisbury Playhouse
City
Salisbury
Starts
May 4, 2017
Ends
May 27, 2017
Press night
May 9, 2017
Authors
Rodney Ackland
Director
Ryan McBryde
Set
James Turner
Lighting
Ben Cracknell
Sound
Jon Roache
Costume
James Turner
Technical
Barny Meats (technical manager), Henrietta Worrall-Thompson (costume supervisor)
Stage manager
Rickie Gilgunn
Cast includes
Sherry Baines, Eleanor Bennett, Philip Bretherton, Roberta Kerr, Katherine Manners, Bathsheba Piepe, Matthew Romain
Casting
Anji Carroll
Producer
Salisbury Playhouse
Running time
2hrs 50mins