BUMF’s Review Editor, Lauren Housego, went along to a performance of BA (Hons) Acting’s show ‘Festen‘, a collaboration between BA (Hons) Acting, BA (Hons) Costume with Performance Design and BA (Hons) Make-up for Media and Performance.
Festen at AUB.
Kirstie Davis’ production of the delightfully disturbing play Festen at AUB, adapted from the screenplay by David Eldridge, created a claustrophobic horror in the intimate theatre that subjected the audience to ninety minutes of a dysfunctional family. The play started from the moment you entered the reception room, the hallway adorned with reassuringly happy photos of the Hansen family, escorted by actors dressed as servants into the theatre.
The original Danish film by Thomas Vinterberg was the first Dogme film, a movement that reverted back to simple, natural productions of film, using hand-held cameras and excluding post-production. The theatre at AUB exemplified this simplistic style, with the majority of action taking place on a grandiose dining table that was laid in the aisle between two rows of audience facing one another.
Set at the 60th birthday of Helge, the patriarch of the successful Hansen family, the play is about a secret that causes the unraveling of a family oligarchy and the demise of Helge. It is about Helge’s son, Christian, who has returned from Paris for the celebration of his father’s birthday, only to reveal the sexual abuse he and his twin sister, Linda, suffered at the hands of the tyrannical Helge. Linda has committed suicide shortly before the beginning of the play, in the family hotel where the celebration is also taking place.
As if the situation at the outset of the play is not disturbing enough, it is only a taste of the disturbances yet to come. Matt Williams gives an excellent portrayal of the traumatised son, as does Alex Pinard as his brother, Michael, who played a despicable abusive husband. The servants, grandfather and manically depressed Poul provided great comic relief to contrast the tragic plot, creating a discomfort that left the audience on the brink of not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The whole cast worked together to give a brilliant performance of a convincing madness that can only be created and tolerated by family.
Davis’ handling of the scenes in the bedroom was excellently executed, having the events occurring in three different bedrooms playing out on the same bed simultaneously. This is no better than at the climax of Michael’s rape of his wife, Mette, when the play starts to truly descend into a darkness where the comedy begins to add to the discomfort of the perturbing plot.
The play shows us the stubborn determination in people to turn a blind eye to abuse, as the family tries to mask the brutality of the father’s actions under the veil of the civilized occasion. All the characters are unwilling to believe Christian’s testimony, even his sister Helene who finds Linda’s suicide note in the hotel professing to Helge’s assaults, and Helge’s loyal wife, Esmie Jappy, who has been a silent witness to her husband’s abuses throughout their years together.
AUB’s production of Festen is a great success. The actors created characters that inspired empathy, amusement and pity in a play that dives to difficult emotional depths.
The next BA (Hons) Acting show ‘Time and the Conways‘ is on 5th, 6th and 7th November and is now Sold Out!
All photography credit: Elliott Trent