Alistair Wilson gives us his take on ‘Festen’ – produced and performed by Essex’s own Theatre Arts Society last month
Festen divides the crowd. Half revel in the glutinous, excessive scenes of family turmoil and dark histories colliding. Half fall back in surprise, anguish and shock to the scenes that meet their eyes.
In Bernardo Bertolucci’s 2003 film, The Dreamers, Matthew, the protagonist, explains that the front row in any theatre is angelic to any real cinema lover, because you receive the image first, signed, sealed and delivered to you before it is repackaged and resold to the rows and rows behind you. This is where I found myself, opening this gross package Festen gifts you first on the front rows, part laughing, part crying but certainly loving every second. Many in the crowd will have not seen the ensemble since their electrifying Peter Panto performance. This feature offered all the hallmarks of an excellent Christmas Pantomime; the heroic lead, the crossdressing Crocodile (who has a suspiciously close likening to Graham Norton) and of course, the ceremonial butt plug.
“This feature offered all the hallmarks…the heroic lead, the crossdressing crocodile..and ofcourse, the ceremonial butt plug”
Alas, Festen serves to showcase the versatility and confidence of the Peter Panto cast accompanied by new faces too, all of which work seamlessly to turn the theatre into a rapidly developing pressure cooker.
The audience is jostled and fooled on a journey into the heart of a Danish families most wicked and, arguably, human features, allowing no rest until the intermission curtain plunges down. If the philosopher Hobbes found himself in the crowd, he’d certainly be screaming how “nasty and brutish” our violent cast prove to be, as characters scream their own secrets to the world.
“The audience is jostled and fooled on a journey in to the heart of Danish families”
The experience is all the more exacting by its precise use of comedy, expertly weaved into the furthest limits of social discussion. Rape, deceit and mental illness are not there to be mocked but instead to be understood and examined in a play that forces its viewers to face a difficult, real, reality. When I left Festen, my cheeks ached and my eyes were tender from tears. What could be a better result from a night at the theatre?