This rarely performed play by Ackland who in his time, according to the programme notes, was described as the English Chekhov is a deeply satirical analysis of post war Britain. Where the wealthy and respectable Skinner family skirt around difficult subjects, worry about rations not being adequate so obtain them illegally and when the youngest daughter, Susan asks for the truth she is threatened with a psychiatrist.
Based on a short story by Somerset Maugham, Before The Party sees daughter Laura returned from Africa, widowed but not alone, the Skinner family prepare for the latest social gathering and amidst the never-ending whirl of hats and dresses and below stairs skirmishes, Laura reveals a shocking secret that threatens to ruin more than one party on the climb to social success.
Tom Conti is hugely popular with the audience as he takes centre stage playing Aubrey Skinner here he is a bumbling soul struggling with shouting women or a broken door handle. Gwen Taylor is alongside as an overbearing Blanche Skinner who has to verge on high comedy to steer away from the constant nagging in the script; Tom Conti also directs.
This is not a “forgotten classic” as characters are rather two dimensional and the shrill arguments become slightly repetitive. However the shortcomings are made more obvious due to the lack of depth to the production. The underscoring of dishonesty and social injustice are missing; the desire to play the entire piece purely for laughs causes a clash in style with the key moments feeling over dramatic and out of place. Here, due to the speed of the delivery the biting satire, lack of morality and inner voice of the piece is lost and as a result the comparisons to Chekov could not be further from the mind.
** – 2 Stars