Before the Party

Salisbury Playhouse

Until May 27

THE post-War era, with rationing and the Black Market still in place, is depicted brilliantly in Before the Party, Rodney Ackland's satirical glimpse of an upper middle class family keen for social advancement.

The play, adapted from Somerset Maugham's short story, offers vivid characterisations on and off stage - where the household staff can be difficult.

The attractive, well furnished set, a charming bedroom with small balcony, is the domain of the widowed Laura, who has returned to England eight months after her husband's death - ostensibly from malaria.

But does Laura, played by Bathsheba Piepe, harbour a dark secret? She is distracted by the attention of a new suitor, David Marshall, played by Matthew Romain, but would he still love her if all the facts were known?

Her young sister Susan , played delightfully by Eleanor Bennett, likes to eavesdrop through a keyhole in a bid to know the truth. Nanny, (Roberta Kerr) is a comforting presence, but can Laura accept her wise counsel?

Kathlerine Manners is glitteringly malicious as the other sister, Kathleen, who has been jealous and vindictive even since schooldays. Their parents struggle to maintain equilibrium and an upwardly mobile social image, as the family prepares to attend a summer garden party.

Philip Bretherton gives a commanding portrayal of prospective politician Aubrey Skinner, and Sherry Baines is his assertive wife Blanche. Both are acutely sensitive to other people's opinions of their widowed daughter's demeanour . There are mixed feelings about the prospective encounter with a Bishop who knew Laura and her husband in West Africa..... and a foray into Who's Who causes further consternation.

The production, directed by Ryan McBryde, with design by James Turner and superb effects by John Roache, is an entertaining foray into a time when attitudes and aspirations were in flux.