Theatre Review: Festen (The Celebration)

A disturbing but extremely well executed piece of theatre

Presented by Red Phoenix Theatre
Reviewed 26 May 2022

This is not the first play to examine a dysfunctional family – it could be described as a favourite subject for playwrights – but few deal with the painful insights so well, or so honestly. David Eldridge has taken an idea from the original film, credited to Thomas Vinterberg, Morens Rukov and Bo hr. Hansen and crafted a script that deals so well with this disturbing subject. Red Phoenix Theatre never shies away from confronting theatre and in the hands of director Nick Fagan, who has dealt with this skilfully, they have another fine production to add to their triumphs.

Of course, this play would not have worked with anything less than a stellar cast, and it was: so many fine performances went to make up this production. Adrian Barnes brought all his very great experience to bear on his portrayal of the father, the character so sickening I have to remind myself that Adrian is a very nice man. As his son, Christian, Brant Eustice gives his usual sterling performance, showing vulnerability and a desperate anger. The family is riddled with prejudices, petty fears and resentment. The other siblings, Michael, played by Nigel Tripodi, and Helene, Claire Keen, are a bundle of resentment and anger. Tripodi gives us a perpetrator of domestic violence and a bigot, whilst Keen exposes a woman who cannot form lasting relationships and hides from the truth.

Each actor maintains character in many ways for the entirety of the play, from the doddery shaking Grandfather (Joh Harthog), the abused wife (Georgia Stockham), the long-suffering mother (Lyn Wilson), the pompous friend Helmut (Gary George) to the depressed, drunk Poul (Geoff Revell). A final invitee to this Birthday Party is Helene’s boyfriend, Gbatokai (Stephen Tongun) the butt of Michael’s racist jokes, who maintains his dignity throughout. The ‘staff’ are an intricate part of the story. Kim (Russell Slater), Christian’s lifetime friend, who is aware of the secret but constrained by his role as an employee and Pia, (Cheryl Douglas) in love with Christian but not considered worthy by his father. Especial mention to Nick Fagan, who at the last minute stepped into the role of Lars, the hotel manager, due to Stuart Pearce being sidelined with Covid – a seamless replacement. All this and a quiet debut by Carmel Boffa as the maid.

The set was simple and effective, dressed and cleared by the cast with little fuss and well lit, as usual, by Richard Parkhill. Kudos to Stage Manager Heather Jones for running the backstage so well that props and food (which came from everywhere) were where they needed to be.

I do not promise that you will enjoy this show. I am sure it will make you think. Congratulations to Red Phoenix for shining a light on an area that has been buried too often. Maybe a little light and fresh air will help us deal.

Reviewed by Fran Edwards
Twitter: @franeds

Venue: The Studio, Holden Street Theatres
Season: 26 May -4 Jun 2022
Duration: 2hrs including interval
Tickets: $21 – $27

Bookings: www.holdenstreettheatres.com

Photo Credit: Richard Parkhill

Disclaimer: Adrian Barnes is an Arts reviewer for Glam Adelaide

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