'Festen' review or 'A burnt out toast'

Festen (The Celebration), Notorra Theatre
Barbican Theatre, Thursday 10th November
Written for Time Out

Family gatherings are always tricky but when Christian toasts his father with the words, 'The health of a murderer!', festivities turn exceptionally sour. There's a touch of 'Macbeth' to Notorra Theatre's 'Festen', which sees an unwelcome guest - the ghost of a suicidal daughter - destroy her father's celebratory feast.

Thomas Vinterberg's 'Festen' began as a film, back in 1998, and a triumphant example of Lars von Trier's 'Dogme 95' movement, which aimed to strip back special effects and prioritise storytelling. This philosophy of pared-down but pent-up drama has proved attractive to theatre makers: David Eldridge penned a well-received adaptation in 2004 and now we have a Romanian version, with English surtitles.

Director Vlad Massaci has remained faithful to the Dogme doctrine and his show contains few lighting or sound effects and a low-key, quietly engaging atmosphere emerges. The first half tingles with foreboding, as half-hearted gestures of love - limp hugs and kisses that never quite connect - suggest a family on the edge of collapse. Yet once the revelations are released, the performances suffer - as do the poorly synchronised surtitles.

Mother Else (Catrinel Dumitrescu) is revealed as the play's real villain but her character never quite emerges from a Valium-like haze. Alexandru Repan is initially compelling as the perverse patriarch, Helge, dressed in gleaming white. Yet when he is finally exposed as a monster in angel's clothing, his stumbling exit feels Shakespearean in stature and a little over the top.


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