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FESTEN, Dramatisation by David Eldridge

“Festen”, which translates to “Celebration” in Danish, sees Helge celebrating his 60th birthday with his wife Else, his daughter Helene and his sons Christian and Michael.

Published on May 16th 2006.


FESTEN, Dramatisation by David Eldridge

“Festen”, which translates to “Celebration” in Danish, sees Helge celebrating his 60th birthday with his wife Else, his daughter Helene and his sons Christian and Michael.

The play follows the events of a dinner party which starts predictably but leads to appalling, terrible and compelling consequences. It ends up as a “celebration“ that no-one taking part will ever forget.

Festen was nominated for 5 Olivier Awards and was winner of the Evening Standard Award for Direction and Design.

In this State of Denmark something is definitely rotten. This is a multi layered dramatisation based on the Dogme film and play by Thomas Vinterburg, Mogens Rugow and Bo Hr.Hansen. It explores the dysfunctional family and the concerted efforts of such family (with one exception) to hide the harrowing truth of a father’s continuous sexual abuse of two of his children, one male and one female, which has already caused the daughter to commit suicide prior to the action of the play.

There are many connections with Hamlet. Certainly elements of a revenge tragedy, but also many resonances of a mad or perhaps not so mad son Christian pursuing his relentless goal for revenge. This revenge is pursued against all the members of his family eventually, though only his parents initially, in a semi private forum with all of them present and in festive mood. Christian knows that revenge is a dish best served cold. What better occasion than the birthday party of Helge.

David Eldridge’s excellent dramatisation draws on much of the Hamlet story, and adds power to the narrative.

It all makes for a most uncomfortable, riveting evening at the theatre. This is the perfect ensemble play and it duly provokes excellent performances from an accomplished group of actors. Christian Coulson as Christian and Laurence Mitchell as Michael give stand out performances.

The Designer Ian MacNeil produces an excellent set and the sound work by Paul Arditti is both haunting and evocative. The clinking of glasses, the running of water and the laughter of children add enormously to the actions on stage.

Rufus Norris directs the play with aplomb, the silent “main course at the beginning of the second act a masterpiece of scene setting. Only the sound of cutlery permeated the theatre. It seemed to last for five minutes.

One leaves the theatre after the denouement reviewing each character, their motives, their responsibility and more particularly how Christian might react. Perhaps his invitation to Pia is full of pregnant meaning. For him the family is no more.

Festen needs a second and maybe a third viewing. The interpretation will change with each new director. Layers and layers of possibilities, responsibilities and soul searching.

This play is an early a 21st century classic . It poses difficult questions about a subject which has only recently started to be rigorously explored.

It leaves many unanswered questions and it invites the theatregoer to share the discomfort, not only of each family member individually, but also of what ensues from all of their misguided actions. No answers, just an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. The institution of family is put to the test and fails handsomely.

A great play which is both thought provoking and relevant. A tragedy completely in tune with the times in which we live. Not to be missed.

Richard Burbage
Email Me

May 2006
At The Lowry
Until Saturday 20th May 2006
Box Office 0870 111 2000 or www.thelowry.com

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