Festen - The Celebration - is a shocking play. It contains swearing, violence, anti-social behaviour, racism, prejudice and has child abuse as it’s central theme. But none of these are the reason that the play is “shocking”. No, Festen shocks for one reason – that all the violence and abuse taking place in an apparently highly respectable and established Danish family is unacknowledged.
Festen shocks because it is a play about appearances, about social veneers, about an over-riding human desire to avoid embarrassment, unnecessary involvement and face to face confrontations. It is about the lengths to which people will go to keep things hidden, to pretend to friends and loved ones that all is well, to deny, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, that there is a distasteful problem within the family. It is about “tagging along” “watching ones back”, safe-guarding ones job and position in society, it’s about being frightened to face the bullies and abusers and it’s about how much more comfortable life can be if one turns a blind eye to unsavoury circumstances.
Festen is shocking and an audience is made uncomfortable because we are left asking ourselves where do we fit in? Are we strong enough to be a whistle-blower or do we, perhaps in lesser, but no less damning situations, ignore abuse, bullying and cruelty, pretend that lives are not disintegrating and just walk away.
Festen is shocking when distanced by a proscenium arch or the safety of celluloid, but see it in the round, be a fly on the wall, watch from only feet away the devices and distractions that a family and close friends will go to maintain social niceties at a father’s 60th birthday, and you will not forget the experience.
Next Stage has achieved another theatrical coup in persuading Marla Rubin, Festen’s producer to entrust a non-professional company with the staging of this powerful play. Marla plans to attend the last night and has been consistently supportive in the collaboration. Next Stage is extremely grateful for the opportunity she has provided the company, to once again achieve a theatrical “first” and maintain in the region their deservedly high reputation.
An elegant and stylish production in black, white and red, Ann Garner, Next Stage’s Artistic Director and director of Festen, has kept to the Dogme traditions of the original film – events evolve naturalistically, there is no extraneous music or effects and, what is all-important, is the story and the characters are laid bare before an audience. Ann believes no matter how shocking, this is a play every theatre-going adult should see.