While Festen successfully managed its first transition from film to the stage of the Almeida earlier this year, the question now was whether it would survive another transfer. Could it manage, in the West End’s larger Lyric Theatre, to recreate the almost intrusive intimacy and shocking intensity of what we saw in that small room at the Almeida? And might three key cast changes in principal roles also disrupt what was previously a simply astonishing display of ensemble performance?
I had called this, after all, “one of the most electrifying nights I’ve ever had in a theatre” the first time I saw it (see below); and so I was ready to be disappointed. Maybe that judgement would prove to be rash; or maybe the change in venue and cast would alter its texture. In fact, I am astonished and overwhelmed all over again.
Even knowing the outcome now, or maybe especially knowing that, I find this family’s bruising, emotional long night’s journey into a day of irrevocable reckoning even more harrowing than before. It is, indeed, the most powerful drama of a family’s tortuous implosion I think I’ve ever seen since O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. As this family makes their grim flight away from and then towards the truth, I had to stifle my own sobs in the midst of theirs.
David Eldridge’s adaptation and Rufus Norris’ extraordinary production is so densely layered and detailed that I also marvelled anew at the amazing psychological detail, rage and violence that are uncovered.
But if that makes it all sound unremittingly grim, there’s also a surprising amount of humour that came to the fore this time for me, too.
While I doubted that the original cast could be bettered, they have been more than adequately equalled here by their brilliant successors. As the two brothers, Luke Mably (looking a little like a younger Rupert Everett) and Rory Kinnear are heartbreakingly good. And Stephen Moore, taking over as the father, is all-too-horribly plausible and seemingly sincere as a man finally being called to account for the damage he’s caused his children, and trying to deflect it one last time.
No less wonderful are the performances from the rest of a spellbindingly fine cast that includes Jane Asher, brittle and deliberately unsympathetic as the mother, and Claire Rushbrook as the surviving daughter. This family may prefer to forget what happened, but they never will. Nor will you: this is an absolutely unforgettable night of theatre.
- Mark Shenton
NOTE: The following review dates from March 2004 and this production’s original run at the Almeida Theatre.
After submitting one sexual taboo to intimate exposure in Edward Albee's
The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? that dealt with a love that dares not bray its name, the
Almeida now lights an even more powerful fuse under another still more
lethal and damaging one, and detonates it explosively.
on the searing 1998 Danish film of the same name, tackles the accusation of
a father's long-term sexual abuse of two of his four children, and creates a
powerful, painful and poignant portrayal of a family plunged into a
At a gathering to celebrate the wealthy, outwardly respectable father's 60th
birthday, his wife, now adult children, brothers and servants join to toast
his health; but there's someone missing from the party. That's daughter
Linda, twin sister to oldest son Christian, who it turns out had committed
And now Christian has some old scores to settle with his dad, and
uses this public occasion to do so. As long suppressed family secrets come
tumbling out, to the initial dismay and disbelief of the rest, the party -
seated at a long table in Rufus Norris's extraordinarily tense and vivid
production like a recreation of the Last Supper - faces a shattering,
This is an evening of gathering and eventually gut-wrenching tension that
Norris ratchets up with a forensic intensity. (It is slightly dissipated by
the unnecessary inclusion of an interval; it would be far better played
straight through). As we are plunged headfirst into this churning atmosphere
of secrets and revelations, it's difficult not to feel at once implicated
and sullied: we are made to bear witness to a very private and naked kind of
pain and grief, and the simple act of watching it feels intrusive.
But that's the incredible power both of David Eldridge's coolly measured
adaptation of the original film script, in which the characters speak in
eloquent silences as well as unbearable rage, and of a quite astonishing
ensemble cast who animate it with raw feeling and eventually overpowering
As the three surviving siblings, Jonny Lee Miller, Tom Hardy
and Claire Rushbrook capture perfectly the familiarity, hostility and
rivalry that binds them; as their parents, Robert Pugh and Jane Asher
offer frighteningly plausible studies in denial of what they're hearing, but
know to be true. But then everyone in the company completely inhabits the
skin of this family, and gets right under yours.
I was by turns stunned, appalled and completely gripped from beginning to
end by one of the most electrifying nights I've ever had in a theatre.