Preparation is often the key to both a good party and a good play. Director Matthew Dunster’s impeccable staging of Before The Party at the Almeida Theatre is clearly well provisioned: a strong text, finely executed, with the highest production values.
The action occurs before two events, a teatime affair and a dinner, with the Skinner family facing increasing turmoil and scandal as they prepare for each. The fare on offer is various – this is a sharp comedy with plenty of deliciously dark-edged plot twists.
Saving the family face makes the snobby Skinners a great target for writer Rodney Ackland’s satire, but emotions break through with a genuine touch that’s truly affecting.
Heroine Laura (Katherine Parkinson) fights for her right to party despite being only recently widowed, and that’s just the start of her shocking behaviour. Laura mortifies her mother and sister (Stella Gonet and Michelle Terry in fine comic style), and infuriates her father, portrayed with suitable bluster by Alex Price.
Special mention has to go to the costumes from a team headed by designer Anna Fleischle. Spot on for a time when post-war celebrations and a touch of provincial conservatism had to deal with continued rationing, they should win an award.
In many ways, Ackland’s play (a big hit in 1949) is pretty dated: the snobbery seems ridiculous, but current financial straits find a parallel with wartime rationing and the black market exploited by the wealthy Skinners shows that we were never really all in it together. Even if you’re not one for nostalgia, Before The Party has enough hits against hypocrisy to make you glad you attended.
Until 11 May 2013
Photo by Keith Pattison
Written 8 April 2013 for The London Magazine