FESTEN (The Celebration)

‘Festen’ (The Celebration) is the extremely dramatic, 2004 play by David Eldridge based on the Dogme film that depicts the cover up of family abuse, The film being based on a book by Thomas Vinterberg, Mogens Rukov and Bo hr.

This outstanding and gripping co-production is by Curtin’s Theatre Arts and The Hayman Theatre Company and staged in The Hayman Theatre (building 302), situated in the grounds of Curtin University off Manning Road, Bentley.

The 80-minute performances have a limited season, running from Tuesday 27th July until Saturday 31st July, with the performances having curtain-up at the earlier time of 7.00 pm.

Tickets available from http://curtin.edu/haymanboxoffice.

The scene:           France. Outside the family home of an immensely wealthy and influential family – initially acted in the grounds outside the home’s main door. Followed by a celebration in a vast dining room for most of the play.

The Set: Designed by Samantha Edgar and James Hoare, the rear wall of the stage is a huge, plate-glass window overlooking the estate. There are two 4-metre, solid teak tables each capable of seating 10 people, placed at right angles to each other, with a small hexagonal table for the host. The seating makes up four matching antique, teak benches.

Properties:          Marein Koens, Josie Mars and Joan Eugenio have gathered enough quality cutlery and crockery for the meal’s three courses. There were wine and water glasses for each guest, complete with serviettes, place cards and table adornments. Then there were trolleys and a wheelchair. A massive job.

Sound design:                    Sasha O’Connor gave us music that changed with the tone of the conversation, from light to dramatic.

Lighting design:                Dominique Duvall, gave a realistic red evening sky (a warning sign!) as the guests arrive, with the room light dimming to a candle effect. Very well handled by Dominique and the lighting operator, Sam Nielsen.

Stage manager:                 Madison Laine Thomas with deputy stage manager Danika Bentley co-ordinated the cast to set the tables, serve the food and then collect the empty dishes. Quite a huge task.

Dressed in a smart blue suit, the eldest son, restaurateur Christian (Sam Ireland) is first to arrive at the family home. He is saddened as his younger sister, Linda, has died quite recently. However, the family are now gathering for a sixtieth birthday celebration, arranged by Else (Tully Jones) the gloriously happy and proud wife for Helge, the patriarch of the Hansen family (Massimiliano Viazzo). His smart sister Helene (Georgia Condon) also arrives. The guests are met at the front door by the faithful retainer and butler, Lars (Thomas Bach).

The atmosphere is pleasant until their tall bullying brother, Michael (Angus Price) arrives with his sister, Mette (Ella Waterman) and Michael’s delightful but slow daughter (Tiahna McBride) dragging her trolley suitcase. Several of the members seem to be suffering from close community inbreeding, like the ever ebullient, Poul (Liam Borbas). Most of those present, along with the butler are reluctant to let Michael into the house.

The perky housemaid, Pia (Poppy Lindsell) and the semi-alcoholic kitchen worker, Kim (Alex Hutchings with Louis Neylon-Williams as stand-in) are in the dining room setting the tables when Christian enters the room; it is immediately obvious that Christian knows Pia intimately. The room fills. Another son, possibly the sanest of the boys, Helmut (Alex Comstock) arrives with his senile, wheelchair bound Grandfather (Adam Naylor) last to enter; he is excited about being able to tell more Granddad jokes. A strange and uninvited guest, Kai (Nelson Fanning) arrives.

Christian raises the first toast. The tribute touches on some delicate topics, but is Christian just jesting?

Director Helen Trenos has given us one of the most dramatic and powerful plays at the Hayman for many years. The whole cast were 100% focused. Along with assistant director and production manager, Stephen Carr, the cast were taken into the real world of acting. Many of the actors are accustomed to being extras, or with walk-on parts, in this play even the smallest parts demanded good delivery and hints at the character. Movement director, Claudia Alessi had the actors moving in some scenes in an almost balletic style, which brought welcome relief from the tension of the high drama.

The costumes were designed and selected by Lily Thackrah, aided by Gabby Williams and Jude Soussan. Each outfit matched the character and personality of the wearer perfectly.

Many congratulations on a very difficult play presented with skill.