Skip to content


Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Brighton 2011
Festen by David Eldridge
Published on Thursday, 19 May 2011

4.5 stars

Brighton Little Theatre (venue website)
14-21 May, 7:45pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Carmel Doohan

 Suitable for age 18+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.

Brighton Little Theatre’s production of Festen is completely engrossing, and in the best possible way, the acting goes almost unnoticed. The cast inhabited their world so completely that I was left with nothing to distract me from the horrible events unfolding on the stage.

As a family gathers to celebrate their father’s sixtieth birthday, secrets are revealed and a seamless blending of tragedy and farce make for very uncomfortable viewing. It is based on the play and ground-breaking film by Thomas Vinterberg, and the style feels fitting. No big budgets or special effects, just story, acting and minimal props; the principles of Dogme, the film-making movement begun by Festen, are very close to those of Fringe theatre.

David Eldridge’s dramatisation is elegant and witty. The rawness that is lost without the film’s clumsily-held camera is made up for by staging a layered dance around the idea of artifice, with the hotel staff doubling as stage-hands for set changes. This graceful and economical decision is strangely beautiful, mirroring their assistance within the drama itself. They add to the surreal feeling of ritualised pretence, led with wonderfully understated aggression by Andrew Bird as ‘Master of ceremonies.’

In a story that has seen numerous versions, it is hard to know where the script ends and the directorial decisions begin, but the only flaw in this superb production was a section where three scenes from the film are condensed into one. When three couples play their parts at the same time in one hotel room it feels a little like style before substance; the choreography is immaculate and the cast’s ability to ignore each other impressive, but it is hard to be fully involved in the action. This is particularly true of Christian’s relationship with Pia, the maid; although played with panache and presence by Erica Thornton, her role seems under-used.

Chris Dangerfield is utterly believable as Christian, allowing indecipherable reserve to mask confusion and pain. As his mother, Nikki Dunsford allows humanity to grow behind brittle elegance and John Tolputt manages the difficult task of eliciting sympathy for the father. A tender scene at the beginning is expertly played to show the warmth and affection between these three, making the revelations that follow all the more distressing.

This cast fill the room with a deep emotional unease for an hour and a half, yet make it look easy. The violence is shockingly real (despite unconvincingly Dolmio-coloured fake blood) and the actors generously allow this important and moving play to do what it is intended to do. I left disturbed, and unable to escape the fact that far more is being revealed here than the secrets of one family.

<< Spring Awakening   Midsummer [A Play With So... >>


These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.