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The House Party (Susan Elkin reviews)

The House Party

By Laura Lomas, an adaptation of Miss Julie by August Strindberg

Directed by Holly Race Roughan

Chichester Festival Theatre in co-production with Headlong in association with Frantic Assembly

Star rating: 3

Photograph by Ellie Kurtz

We’re in the present, in a spaciously luxurious home where a teenage party is about to kick off. Loren Elstein’s shiny set connotes that well and makes imaginative use of the Minerva space. There’s a large kitchen island centre stage. When the party bursts in, the island becomes a mini platform for dancing. And much later it morphs into a very different sort of small kitchen with clothes airer, cereal packet and small old fashioned sink unit.

Because there’s a party for eighteen-year-olds in the background Giles Thomas’s sound design gives us short bursts of music so loud the building shakes – which feels authentic, and it’s interspersed with dramatic blackouts. The ensemble of party goers are cast from Chichester Festival Youth Theatre and Frantic Assembly’s Ignition programme. Choreographed by Frantic’s Scot Graham, their work is spikily arresting.

At heart though, Strindberg’s 1888 play is a three hander, and I’d argue that Lomas’s play is inspired by Miss Julie rather than adapted from it because it’s a very long way from the original in many respects.  Before I saw it I received a cryptic note from the press office asking me to be aware that the play does not end where you’d expect it to if you know Miss Julie. Indeed – does Julie really go off to commit suicide and if not, or if she fails, where would these three people be in ten years’ time? Lomas gives us a rather odd epilogue or postscript to explore that point and it seriously upsets the balance of the play because the first half is nearly an hour and a half and the second less than 20 minutes. At the interval, puzzled people all round me were asking each other “Is it finished?”

Lomas has enhanced the role of Christine (Rachelle Diedricks) who comes from a working-class background but is very bright and hoping to go to Cambridge. She is a close friend of Julie (Nadia Parkes) whose wealthy absent father owns the house. Christine’s boyfriend Jon (Josh Finan) is the son of woman who does the cleaning in the house. Thus, ways have been contrived of making the play’s central, troubled relationships more or less plausible for 2024 although the characters are very different from Strindberg’s. Jon, for example, is much more decent and less self-interested than Jean in the original, his one big mistake notwithstanding.

Diedricks as Christine is warm, bubbly and later intense and troubled before eventually finding a calm maturity and a sense of stillness – it’s a strong performance. Parkes’s Julie is engagingly volatile as she gives us a deeply flawed and troubled personality – affected by the fatal combination of privilege and neglect in which she has grown up. And Parkes nails that. Finan, who uses his native Merseyside accent, finds innate commonsensible decency and homeliness in Jon and it’s pretty convincing. Lomas says in her programme interview that she hopes that, at the end of the play, the audience will feel compassion for each of these three characters – and she certainly achieves that despite the play feeling a bit like a jigsaw whose pieces don’t quite lock together.



Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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