The Cocktail Party


'I laid down for myself the ascetic rule to avoid poetry which could not stand the test of dramatic utility,’ said T.S. Eliot of The Cocktail Party, shortly after its premiere at the 1949 Edinburgh Festival. Philip Franks’s revival of this rarely-seen play seems to have followed Eliot's textual intentions closely, and with a good deal of success. With poetic drama generally, and Eliot’s particularly, there is a fine line between on-stage poetry readings, and verse sat upon by the great,

g stifling bum of pure naturalism. Here we suffer neither,

but rather find a performance which draws us artfully into the impression of an old-fashioned, Rattiganesque drawing-room banality, and then has sudden moments of intense power, where we become aware that we’ve been listening to poetry all along.

Eliot’s narrative begins with the upper-class shindig of the title, after which it is revealed that Edward Chamberlayne (David Bamber) has entertained his guests without his wife Lavinia (Suzanne Burden), because she has left him after discovering of his affair

, with Celia, a younger woman (Catherine Cusack). All this he explains to a mysterious guest (Clive Merrison)

amid farcical interruptions by his earlier guests, the busybody Julia (Maggie Steed) and clay-footed Alex (Simon Jones).

Merrison proves to be an eminent psychiatrist, who in league with Jones and Steed - attempts to bring

about a reconciliation of the couple, a particularly

charmless version of Coward's Eliot and Amanda. His technique seems to have as much to do with spiritual regeneration as psychological care, and enters the lives

Rough ’n' tumble: Paul Cunningham and Lucy McLellan in The Hanging Tree

l THEATRE REVIEW The Hanging Tree

and deception

situation starred by grief, resentment

The estate is playv-Jriglit/dzrett<:r‘

Poetry in motion: Catherine Cusack and David Bamber in The Cocktail Party

of both Celia and Lavinia's lover Peter (Sebastian Harcombe) with consequences which may be seen as tragic, though T.S. Eliot did not see it so.

The cast works well together, allowing the dialogue to modulate the tone and pace, and bringing out the comedy of the first act. Merrison’s Sir Henry is nicely developed, moving from heavy-drinking taciturnity to an all-powerful shaman status as the play progresses. In support, Steed's strident, Thatcher-like tones comfortably complement character and verse, while the jerky, semi-adolescent movement of Cusack also works well with the all-important language.

A splendid final backdrop, Rae Smith’s bomb-site, conveys another of Eliot's wastelands. Finally, we are left with the play itself, and the paradox of Eliot, a writer who sought a wider exposure through theatre, though his plays only reached an audience of the kind of people who come and go, talking of Michelangelo. (Steve Cramer)

I The Cocktail Party (Festival) Royal Lyceum Company, King's Theatre, 220 4349/473 2000, uriti/30 Aug, 7 30pm, mats 28 8/ 30 Aug, 2.30pm, 155— [22

leads, inewtably, to a heart-in-throat showdown between equally tainted forces of good and evrl.

The title is derived from a I958 Gary Cooper vehicle pegged in Halliwell's Film Guide as a 'lowering Western wrth a feeling for place and period, plus a welter of riielodramatic modents.’ The description neatly fits LookOut's production, only it". funnier, sprinkled With sharp humour.

McCartney and a superb cast delineate an impoverished community of line- dancing urban superficially domineering men and strong

breeds hardness but also (QSIIIOIlCC

supporting roles), and a beanhag rat is a mistake, But the show works as

1k 4: 1&- 1r flicola 2‘.1(Cartney's tor‘teriiiiorary necessarily contrived, meaty Life is riot irir- l'uil‘di‘”. 8.3, f'i' ,‘ihri ‘.'€'.’\l( ii of fl'llil/if‘.(l", .".‘.i\ r.,-.t>s.'nrr contemporary entertainment. Specral liar.<e, t‘ir- terizra f...ira< rm " tr;,r:tier town Her script is structured mention to Louise Ludgate, blazmgly LorrkOti: (tiv'ir:ariy's rivahwniy', like a ‘.Veslr:-rri rriorality play Iohii (Alan good as both John's angry teen

the Arrieritar- '.'t'i~ilerri v 1‘5. genre of (hoite and John \.\’ayr-e an ideal role- riiridel Only .1". had ‘0" iii!“ rudrlle- aged (ix-(op to folio: tire lr';-r,,tster:s of his (ellulmrl idol He’s the self- (ll)l)()ll‘ii(‘(l sheriff {if a (.'|I".('-ll(llll('(l l") housing estate: ti'llilrll Stritlarirl, where dririk, rlr‘ii’:~. aid ilt'lfl are the

norm lie".


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LitQiieerii, a seriously flawed hero, neglects his painfully decent Wife r.".lair: Glilt‘Sth‘i in favour of a long- standing affair ‘.'/lill a younger woman ‘l_ll(‘,/ ivir Leilari) She, in turn, is riiar'ried srriaII-tirne Curinirigliarni rest}; risilile, riart, for the death of joint", riiiliesterit son i’."rtCiirtrir"‘,"‘. dyiy-lg-y-rlay plotting

daughter and a tough-tongued family friend, and Denis Agnew, whose prograriiriie credit for ’Violence' is the first I've ever encountered. It's a rough world, as he and LookOut know. (Donald Hutera)

I The Hanging Tree (Fringe) Traverse Theatre rl/eriue 75) 228 7404, until 30 Avg, tirrres raw, [8 ([5)

pusher rPaul

at least .n

gunslingers, of ~ but beleaguered women, where hardship » Some staging is awkward, more 3

might have been made of a deal lad : rTimolhy Webster, first-rate in five :

festival reviews THEATRE Festival hit list

Cancel all engagements til! _ Sunday. Exchange your children for tidrets. These are the Festival shows you must not miss.

Disco Pigs Ireland's Corcadorca company in bizarrely poetic exploration of youth culture. Disco Pigs (Fringe) Corcadorca, Traverse (Venue 15) 228 1404, until 30 Aug, 9.45pm, £8 ([5). Tears Of Laughter Choreographer liri Kylian brings in his mature company, NDT III, for its UK debut, in a five-piece programme. Tears Of Laughter (International Festival) Nederlands Dans Theater III, Edinburgh Playhouse, untii 30 Aug, £5—f20.

Anna Weiss Raw, gripping drama about accusations of child abuse. Anna Weiss (Fringe) Traverse Company, Traverse (Venue 15) 228 1404, until 30 Aug, times vary, [10(f6).

Hellcab Dark comedy from Chicago, as Travis Bickle goes Midwest. Hellcab (Fringe) Tamarind Theatre, Traverse (Venue 75) 228 7404, until 30 Aug, times vary, £8 (£5).

Talklng To The Wall Intense, poetic monologue by Irish actor/writer Mannix Flynn, covering his own life from birth till now. Talking To The Wall (Fringe) Sugar/oat, Gilded Balloon at The Honeycomb (Venue 739) 226 2751, 4pm, f 6 (£5).

The Cherry Orchard Okay, so it's Chekhov in German but Peter Stein's version may be the best Chekhov in German you'll ever see. The Cherry Orchard (International Festival) Sa/zburg Festival, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 473 2000, until 30 Aug, 7pm,

Fool House Veteran mask/physical company Trestle in biggest hit for years, set in Amsterdam. Fool House (Fringe) Trestle, Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550, until 30 Aug, 3. 75pm, £7/f8 (f S/f 6).

Hommage A Mary Wigmanl‘rhe Wedding Hungarian siren of dance Yvette Bozsik in a stunning double-bill. Hommage A Mary Wigman/The Wedding (Fringe) Compagnie Yvette Bozsik, Famous Grouse House (Venue 34) 220 5606, until 30 Aug, 3. 75pm, £7 (£5).

The League Of Gentlemen Hard-edged sketch comedy from the trio who walked away with this year’s Perrier Pick Of The Fringe Award. The League Of Gentlemen (Fringe) Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550, until 30 Aug, 5.30pm, f 7. 50/£8. 50 (£6.50/f 7.50). Do You Come Here Often? Superny imaginative and funny visual comedy from a duo with ten years’ experience in the field. 00 You Come Here Often? (Fringe) The Right Size, Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) 226 2428, until 30 Aug, 6pm, f 8/1" 9 (f 7/£ 8).

29 Aug ii Sep I997 THELISTS?