Festen Lyric Theatre (London's West End) (23 Sep 2004 to 16 April 2005)

  • Date:
    September 1, 2004
    Review by:
    Alan Bird


    Written by: David Eldridge.
    Directed by: Rufus Norris
    Cast: Paul Nicholls (Christian), Carol Royle (Else), William Beck (Michael), Susannah Wise (Mette), Morven Christie (Pia), Jason Baughan (Kim), Sam Beazley (Grandfather), Sam Cox (Poul), Andrew Maud (Lars), Stephen Moore (Helge), Patrick Robinson (Gbatokai), Lisa Palfrey (Helene), Michael Thomas (Helmut).
    Synopsis: A beloved patriarch, surrounded by his wife, his daughter, his two sons and a host of family and friends, is celebrating his 60th birthday at his country home. This promises to be a very special occasion, but as the evening progresses, the man's eldest son, Christian, feels compelled to break the silence surrounding a family secret. Standing to propose a toast, he offers his father - much to the delight of the guests - an amusing yet simple choice. And so the games begin. Revelations and accusations tumble across the dinner table, paving the way for a celebration that no one will ever forget.

    Review by Alan Bird
    24 Sep 2004

    A father�s 60th birthday is a cause for family celebration, even if the memory of the eldest daughter�s (Linda) recent suicide still shadow�s the occasion. But the dead have a way of haunting the hearts of the living, especially when the family has a nasty secret, one that undermines the trust that makes family relations possible. A father�s patriarchal power and a mother�s cowardly silence are about to be shattered when the dead sister�s twin brother, decides to share some of his childhood recollections.The horrible events he recounts acts like a caustic acid dissolving all pretence of paternal love.

    David Eldridge�s adaptation of this Danish play focuses increasingly on the wound that lies beneath the bandages of conviviality. The bloodied bandages are not gently removed to prevent reopening of the lesion, but suddenly and painfully stripped away.

    Luke Mably (Christian) embraces the terrible desolation of his character, he physically collapses under the weight of Christian�s sorrow. His performance is pivotal to the play, as it is only his anguish that allows us to understand the desolation that must have led his twin sister to commit suicide. When he asks the young girl whom he appears to relate to as his sister�s dead ghost �Do you want me to follow you?� his isolation is tangible.

    Stephen Moore (Helge � Christian�s father) is not as authoritative as Robert Pugh when it premiered at the Almeida Theatre earlier this year, making it difficult to picture this more genteel Helge as a patriarchal tyrant. Moore�s Helge is still a monster, but a very human one, and it is hard not to both despise and pity this wretched man.

    Jane Asher (Else � Christian�s mother) is cold and brittle. At the Almeida one felt sorrow for this woman who was dominated by her husband�s will, however now that the husband is not so imposing it is hard to feel anything other than contempt.

    Rufus Norris powerful production of Festen is emotional, troubling and enraging. The recurring sound of dripping water and of an innocent young girl�s laughter, are constant reminders of betrayal. I am not easily moved to strong emotions, but in the final scenes malice is the only way I can describe my feelings towards this devastated family�s parents.

    (Alan Bird)
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