Before the Party | Almeida Theatre, London
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Before the Party

by Rodney Ackland
based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham
Thu 21 Mar 2013 - Sat 11 May 2013

“But darling what will people think if the sister’s wearing mourning and the widow’s dressed in pink?”

The war is over and the Skinner family are trying to return to normal. If only the blasted Government weren’t such a nuisance about the rations and Cook could get some more of those delicious delicacies. With daughter Laura returned from Africa, widowed but not alone, they prepare for the latest social gathering.

Amidst the never-ending whirl of hats and dresses and below stairs skirmishes, Laura reveals a shocking secret that threatens to ruin more than one party on the climb to social success.

Writer Rodney Ackland is best known for his play Absolute Hell, performed at the National Theatre in 1996 starring Judi Dench. Before the Party is based on a short story by Somerset Maugham. Ackland’s hilarious adaptation is a sizzling portrayal of the upper middle classes adjusting to post-war life; directed in a revival by Matthew Dunster, whose directorial credits include the highly-acclaimed Mogadishu (Lyric Hammersmith) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre).

The running time is approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes including a 15 minute interval.

Major Sponsor
  • Katherine Parkinson (Laura). Photo Keith PattisonKatherine Parkinson (Laura). Photo Keith Pattison
  • Alex Price (David) and Katherine Parkinson (Laura). Photo Keith PattisonAlex Price (David) and Katherine Parkinson (Laura). Photo Keith Pattison
  • Alex Price (David). Photo Keith PattisonAlex Price (David). Photo Keith Pattison
  • Michelle Terry (Kathleen). Photo Keith PattisonMichelle Terry (Kathleen). Photo Keith Pattison
  • Katherine Parkinson (Laura) and Stella Gonet (Blanche). Photo Keith PattisonKatherine Parkinson (Laura) and Stella Gonet (Blanche). Photo Keith Pattison
  • Michael Thomas (Aubrey). Photo Keith PattisonMichael Thomas (Aubrey). Photo Keith Pattison

Before the Party is Rodney Ackland's darkly comic adaptation of Somerset Maugham's short story.


"...a forgotten gem ... Katherine Parkinson is enthralling ... Michelle Terry is priceless."
Kate Bassett, Independent on Sunday, 7 April 2013

"...yelps of scandalised and delightedly incredulous laughter throughout Matthew Dunster's miraculously well-acted revival of this forgotten 1949 gem by Rodney Ackland ... Sheer, spiky bliss."
Paul Taylor, The Independent, 1 April 2013
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"A perfect example of Ackland's singular craftsmanship ... director Matthew Dunster makes the play sing with constant movement and precise comic timing. He is aided by a tremendous cast."
Neil Norman, Daily Express, 29 March 2013

"Given a rare, masterful revival by Matthew Dunster at the Almeida, Rodney Ackland’s bitingly funny 1949 adaptation of a 1926 short-story by Somerset Maugham fleshes out its wry source in a theatrically entertaining way and ferrets out its nutritious dramatic meat too."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph, 29 March 2013
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"One by one the absurd, snobbish, panicking family members with their dreadful values become the victims of real emotion ... Never a dull moment or a misjudged move. Bliss."
Libby Purves, The Times, 30 March 2013
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"A high-flying cast hits all the right notes; Michelle Terry, as hatchet-faced unmarried sister Kathleen, brings the house down with her grimly crisp delivery... It’s wonderful to see her and Parkinson, two of our very finest younger actresses, square up to each other."
Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard, 2 April 2013
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"The tragedy behind this dark comedy is that, obsessed with respectability and form, the Skinners are woefully ill-equipped to handle the painful truh ... Katherine Parkinson’s beautifully controlled performance, is masterful."
Sarah Hemming, Financial Times, 2 April 2013
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"The iniquities carried out in the name of ‘social standing’ are propped up for target practice in Rodney Ackland’s deadly 1949 play Before The Party ... gleefully vicious skewering of upper-middle-class manners"
Siobhan Murphy, Metro, 3 April 2013
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“An excellent production in all respects. My wife and I were hugely impressed by it.”

“Brilliant production, excellent cast and an interesting and entertaining revival.”

“Wonderfully drawn characters.”

“The perfect package—from the design of the poster/programme to the theatre ushers dressed in accordance with the period to the animations before both acts, the superb quality of the acting, the set design and costumes—everything just seemed to work so perfectly and there was a lovely atmosphere at the theatre that night. All in all, a great night out.”

“We all thoroughly enjoyed Before the Party. Excellent cast, great costumes and set.”

“Extremely funny.”

“Particularly beautiful costumes for this show. Love the atmosphere in the bar. Bravo!”

To see what our audiences are saying on Twitter, click here.


Polly Dartford
Susan Skinner

Theatre includes: Christmas Carol; Shadowmaster (King’s Head Theatre); Oedipus Rex (National Theatre); The Girl, The Mother and the Rubbish (Unicorn Theatre).

Television includes: Primeval; Doctors; Casualty.

Film includes: Effie.

Polly is a pupil at King Alfred School in London and has been an active member of the Young Actors Theatre since 2007.

Anna Devlin
Susan Skinner

Anna is 13 years old and lives with her parents and brother in Islington, London.  She enjoys athletics, fashion and design.  Last year she was delighted to have taken part in the 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony as a dancer. This is her first professional role in theatre.

Stella Gonet
Blanche Skinner

Theatre Includes: Top Girls (Trafalgar Studios); Women, Power and Politics (Tricycle Theatre); Hilda (Hampstead Theatre); Skylight (National Theatre, West End); Memory of Water (West End); Racing Demon; The Shaughraun; The Voysey Inheritance; Hamlet; True Dare Kiss; Command or Promise (National Theatre); Measure for Measure; After Easter; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Three Sisters; The Revenger’s Tragedy; Jew of Malta; Fashion; Heresies; The Archbishop’s Ceiling (RSC); Cyrano de Bergerac (Theatre Royal Haymarket); Points of Departure (Traverse Theatre, Tour); Slab Boy Trilogy (Traverse Theatre, Royal Court).  

Television includes: Father Brown; Hacks; Lewis; Mo; Holby City; Rebus; Persuasion; Trip Trap; The Secret; Dalziel & Pascoe; Mysterious Murders; Where The Heart Is; Murder in Suburbia; Taggart; Inspector Lynley Mysteries; Foyle’s War; Midsomer Murders; House of Eliott; The Bill; Casualty; The Shutter Falls; To Have and to HoldThe Crow Road; Supply and Demand.

Film includes: How I Live Now; Dirty Bomb; Nicholas Nickleby; Stalin; For Queen and Country.

Emily Lane
Susan Skinner

Emily is thirteen years old and attends the Sylvia Young Theatre School in London. Previous West End experience includes The Sound of Music at the London Palladium and she is currently appearing in the new safety campaign for Network Rail.

Katherine Parkinson
Laura Whittingham

For the Almeida: The Lightning Play

Theatre includes: Absent Friends (Harold Pinter Theatre); 66  Books; The Age of Consent (Bush Theatre); School For Scandal (Barbican); Season’s Greetings (National Theatre); Cock; The Seagull (Royal Court); Other Hands; Flush (Soho Theatre); The Unthinkable (Sheffield Crucible Theatre); Cigarettes & Chocolate (Kings Head Theatre); The Riot Act; The Increased Difficulty of Concentration; Camille (Lyric Hammersmith); Frame 312 (Donmar Warehouse); Deep Throat Live on Stage (Assembly Rooms).

Television includes: Inside Number 9; Officially Special; Sherlock; The IT Crowd; Bleak Old Shop of Stuff; Coma Girl; Whites; Psychoville; The Great Outdoors; The Old Guys; Jonathan Creek; Christmas At The Rivera; Doc Martin; Fear,Stress and Anger; Katy Brand Comedy Lab; Extras; Casualty; Ahead of the Class; Dirty Filthy Love.

Film includes: St Trinians 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold; The Boat That Rocked; Easy Virtue; How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

Alex Price
David Marshall

Theatre includes: Beautiful Thing (Royal Exchange, Manchester); Electra (Gate Theatre); Bingo (Chichester Festival Theatre); Is Everyone OK? (Nabokov Touring Project); Colourings (Old Red Lion); Duchess of Malfi (National Theatre Studio).

Television includes: Aphrodite Fry; Father Brown; Vera; Above Suspicion; Eric and Ernie; Doctor Who; Doctors; Lewis; Mouth to Mouth; Going Postal; Merlin; Being Human; Casualty.

Film includes: Storage 24; A Passionate Woman; A Horse With No Name; Clubbed; Internal.

Michelle Terry
Kathleen Skinner

Theatre includes: In the Republic of Happiness; Tribes (Royal Court); Comedy of Errors; London Assurance; England People Very Nice (National Theatre); Sixty-Six Books; Broken Space Season; 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (Bush Theatre); Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (Arcola); Love’s Labour’s Lost (Globe, US Tour); The Man Who Had All The Luck (Donmar Warehouse); The Promise (New Wimbledon Theatre); The Winter’s Tale; Pericles; Days of Significance; The Crucible (RSC); Beautiful Thing (The Sound Theatre); As You Like It (New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme); Burial at Thebes (Nottingham Playhouse).

Television includes: The Café; Reunited; Law & Order; Extras.    

Michelle trained at RADA.

Michael Thomas
Aubrey Skinner

For the Almeida:
Waste; Festen.

Theatre includes:
Lettice & Lovage (Watermill Theatre, Newbury); As You Like It; The Tempest (BAM, New York; Old Vic); All’s Well that End’s Well; St Joan; Pillars of the Community; The Orestia; The Life of Galileo; The Shoemaker’s Holiday (National Theatre); Our Country’s Good (Liverpool Everyman); In Praise of Love; King Lear (Chichester Festival Theatre); Under the Curse (Gate Theatre) Edward III; Women Beware Women; King John; The Roman Actor; The Malcontent; The Comedy of Errors; Henry V; Henry IV Part 2; Romeo & Juliet; A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC); Under the CurseThe Lady’s Not for Burning; St Joan; Antony & Cleopatra (Old Vic).

Television includes: Holby Blue; Trial and Retribution; Doctors; New Tricks; Ultimate Force III; Rosemary & Thyme; Holby City; Playing the Field; Wing and a Prayer; Underworld; The Broker’s Man; Eastenders; Soldier, Soldier; The Bill.

June Watson

For the Almeida: Hippolytus.

Theatre includes: Uncle Vanya (West End); Calendar Girls (National Tour); Another Door Closed (Theatre Royal Bath); Aristo (Chichester Festival Theatre); The Children’s Hour (Royal Exchange, Manchester); Smaller (Lyric Theatre, Tour); Mary Stuart (West End); Talking to Terrorists; Kosher Harry; Sliding with Suzanne (Royal Court); Romeo & Juliet (RSC); Scenes from the Big Picture; The Good Hope; Our Lady of Sligo (National Theatre); Streetcar to Tennessee (Young Vic).

Television includes: The Café; Doctors; Holby City; Wallander; Doctors; Law and Order: UK; Above Suspicion; New Tricks; Hancock and Joan; The Bill; The Street; Billy Goats Gruff; City of Vice;  Clapham Junction; Holby City; Wedding Belles; The Time of Your Life; Strictly Confidential; In Denial of Murder; The Key; William & Mary; Midsomer Murders; Holby City; Inspector Lynley; Holby City; Casualty; Berkeley Square; Kavangh QC.

Film includes: Wreckers; Ghost Hunter; 102 Dalmatians; Highlander IV: Endgame.

Writer Rodney Ackland
Director Matthew Dunster
Design Anna Fleischle
Lighting Philip Gladwell
Sound Ian Dickinson
Video Designer Mark Thomas
Casting Julia Horan CDG
Dialect Majella Hurley
Assistant Director Bethan Dear


Rodney Ackland

Rodney Ackland was born in Westcliff-on-Sea in 1908 and after training at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, began his theatrical career as an actor and director in regional repertory and West End theatre. He started writing his first play Improper People at the age of fifteen which was staged in the West End in 1929. His subsequent plays included Strange Orchestra, The Old Ladies (both directed by John Gielgud), After October, The Dark River, The White Guard and The Pink Room, later retitled Absolute Hell which was performed at the National Theatre in 1996 starring Judi Dench. Before the Party was a major West End hit on its original production at the St. Martin’s Theatre in 1949. Ackland also worked extensively as a screenwriter, collaborating with, amongst others, Alfred Hitchcock and Terence Rattigan. He died in 1991. His plays continue to be performed in all parts of the world.


Matthew Dunster

Matthew is a director, playwright and actor as well as an Associate Director at the Young Vic.

For the Almeida as Writer: Children’s Children.

As a Director for the stage: You Can Still Make a Killing (Southwark Playhouse); The Sacred Flame (English Touring Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre); Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; Macbeth (Royal Exchange, Manchester); Mogadishu (Royal Exchange, Manchester; Lyric Hammersmith); The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Royal & Derngate, Northampton); Doctor Faustus; The Frontline (Globe); Love the Sinner (National Theatre); Testing the Echo (Out of Joint); The Member of the Wedding; Some Voices (Young Vic); Love and Money (Young Vic; Royal Exchange, Manchester); Cruising (Bush Theatre); Project D: I’m Mediocre (The Work); Port Authority (Liverpool Everyman).

As Writer for the stage: The Most Incredible Thing; 1984; You Used to Tell Me; The Glazier;Two Clouds Over Eden; The Band; You Can See the Hills.

As Writer for radio: Depth of Field; Poor Echo.

Anna Fleischle

Theatre includes: Can We Talk About This? (DV8 at Sydney Opera House; National TheatreI/ International Tour); Rats Tales; Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester); Love the Sinner (National Theatre); The Sacred Flame (English Touring Theatre); Coram Boy (Bristol Old Vic at Colston Hall); Zaide (Sadler’s Wells/ Tour); Troilus and Cressida (Globe); As You Like It (Curve Theatre, Leicester); Love and Money; You Can See the Hills (Young Vic/ Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester); Beasts and  Beauties (Hampstead Theatre); Playing God; Dysfunction (Soho); Someone Else’s Shoes (English Touring Theatre/ Soho); Some Voices (Young Vic); Maria de Buenos Aires (Vereinighte Bühnen Bozen).

Dance includes: Second Coming (Scottish Dance Theatre); Grope It and Find It and Pull It Out (Deborah Hay Dance Company);  Ms Mortis (Intoto Dance); Triptych (Sadler’s Wells); Desert; Porch Time (The Place Theatre); Larynx (Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House); See-Saw (CUPA).

Anna has numerous design credits at Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe, Germany working with choreographer Olaf Schimdt and at Theater Erlangen.

Philip Gladwell

Theatre includes:  No Quarter; Oxford Street; Kebab (Royal Court); Love The Sinner (National Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bristol Old Vic); Miss Julie (Schaubühne, Berlin); Further Than the Furthest Thing (Dundee Rep); One For The Road; God of Carnage (Royal and Derngate Theatre); Obama the Mamba; Gypsy (Curve Theatre, Leicester); The King and I (UK Tour); Twist of Gold (Polka Theatre); Small Hours (Hampstead Theatre); Park Avenue Cat (West End); Five Guys Named Moe (Underbelly / Theatre Royal Stratford East); Terminus (Abbey Theatre, Dublin / Australia / Young Vic); Cinderella; Aladdin (Lyric Hammersmith); Mogadishu; Punk Rock (Lyric Hammersmith / UK Tour); You Can’t Take It With You; Nineteen Eighty-Four; Macbeth (Royal Exchange, Manchester); My Romantic History (Bush Theatre / Sheffield / Edinburgh); The Fahrenheit Twins (Told by an Idiot); For Once; Origins (Pentabus); The Member of the Wedding; Ghosts (Young Vic); Testing the Echo (Out of Joint); The Spire; Design for Living (Salisbury Playhouse); The Boy Who Fell into a Book (Soho Theatre); Radio Times (UK Tour / Watermill); Thoroughly Modern Millie; Relatively Speaking (Watermill); The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society; Melody; In the Bag (Traverse Theatre); Mother Courage and Her Children (Nottingham / UK Tour).  

Opera includes:  Rigoletto, La Wally (Opera Holland Park); After Dido (ENO / Young Vic); Cosi Fan Tutte (WNO); Il Trittico (Opera Zuid); Falstaff (Grange Park).

Ian Dickinson

For the Almeida: A Delicate Balance; Mrs Klein.

Theatre includes: Port (National Theatre); Curious Incident Of the Dog in the Nighttime (National Theatre / West End); 13; Season’s Greetings; After the Dance; This House (National Theatre); Hero; The River; Haunted Child; Spur of the Moment; Wig Out!; Now or Later; Rhinoceros; The Seagull; Krapp’s Last Tape; Drunk Enough to Say I Love You; Piano / Fort (Royal Court); Rock n’ Roll (Royal Court / West End); The Sunshine Boys; South Downs / The Browning Version; Absent Friends; Betrayal; The Misanthrope (West End); Jerusalem (West End / Broadway); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre); Top Girls (Chichester Theatre); Mogadishu (Royal Exchange / Lyric Hammersmith); Bingo (Young Vic); Pieces of Vincent (Arcola Theatre); 1984 (Royal Exchange, Manchester).

Opera includes: Don Giovanni (ENO).

Ian has been with the Autograph design team since 2009. Autograph is responsible for numerous theatre productions including The Bodyguard, Les Misérables, Wicked, Mamma Mia!, Matilda, A Chorus Line, Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages, Singin’ in the Rain, Once and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Mark Thomas
Video Designer

As Video Designer: Rat’s Tales (Royal Exchange Theatre).

As Director: Transmissions; Portrait of an Athlete (Arts Council England).

As Creative Director: Big Picture Show (Imperial War Museum North).

Mark works independently and collaboratively with film, video and interactive media. Since founding Soup Collective in 1999, Mark has developed his role both as an independent filmmaker – directing promos and documentaries for acts such as Elbow, Doves and Editors – and a Creative Director within Soup Collective, developing large-scale AV projects and installations. 

Julia Horan CDG

For the Almeida: The Turn of the Screw; King Lear; Children’s Children; Filumena; The Knot of the Heart; Through a Glass Darkly; Measure for Measure; When the Rain Stops Falling; In a Dark Dark House; The Homecoming; Nocturne; Awake and Sing!; Dying for It; Out of the Fog.

Theatre includes: The Shawl; Blackta; A Doll’s House; Wild Swans; After Miss Julie; Government Inspector; Glass Menagerie; Joe Turner’s Come and Gone; Annie Get Your Gun; In The Red and Brown Water; Lost Highway; The Good Soul of Szechuan (Young Vic); Clybourne Park (Royal Court / West End); The Heretic; Get Santa!; Kin; Red Bud; Tribes; Wanderlust; Spur of the Moment; Sucker Punch; Ingredient X (Royal Court); A Chorus of Disapproval; South Downs / The Browning Version; Backbeat; Arcadia; Swimming with Sharks; As You Like It; Antarctica; The Weir (West End); Six Characters in Search of an Author (Chichester Festival Theatre / West End / Sydney Festival); pool (no water) (Frantic Assembly); Gaddafi: A Living Myth (English National Opera); The Golden Dragon; Bad Jazz; A Brief History of Helen of Troy (ATC); Othello (Cheek by Jowl); The Girl on the Sofa (Edinburgh International Festival / Schaubuhne Theatre, Berlin).

Television includes: Adha Cup; Parliamo Glasgow; Harvest; The Verdict; The Bill; The Badness of George IV.

Julia is a member of the Casting Director’s Guild.


Majella Hurley

For the Almeida
: Ruined.

Theatre includes: Jerusalem; Chicago; Wicked (West End); The Kitchen; The Seafarer; Aristocrats; Scenes from the Big Picture; Anything Goes; The Night Season; Pillars of the Community; Exiles (National Theatre); Ragtime; The Beggar’s Opera; Lord of the Flies; Hello Dolly (Regent’s Park Open Air); Love’s Labour’s Lost; A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC); Journey’s End (West End / Broadway); Pygmalion; The Seagull (Broadway); Our Boys; Some Girls (West End); Abigail’s Party (Hampstead / West End); Loyal Women; The Force of Change; Disconnect; The Weir (Royal Court); Guantanamo; Bloody Sunday Inquiry; The Great Game; Stones in His Pockets; Let There Be Love; Women and Politics; The Nuclear Bomb (Tricycle Theatre); National Anthems; Six Degrees of Separation; The Beauty Queen of Leenane; Bingo (Young Vic).

Television includes: Game of Thrones; Case Histories; Stella; Cranford; Little Dorrit; EastEnders; State of Play; Hearts and Bones; White Girl; Wuthering Heights.

Film includes: Toast; With or Without You; Endgame; Intermission; Skydance; Al’s Lads.

Bethan Dear
Assistant Director

Bethan was Resident Assistant Director at the Finborough Theatre in 2010, where she assisted Blanche McIntyre, Beckie Mills and Adam Lenson. She has worked extensively in British and international youth theatre, including productions for Islington Community Youth Theatre, Tangled Feet, OYO in Namibia and SoftPower Education in Uganda.

As a director: Hindle Wakes (Finborough Theatre); What Will Survive of Us (National Theatre Inside-Out); Count Down to the Happy Day (Tristan Bates Theatre); Autumn in Arcadia (The Castle Theatre / Arts Centre, Wellingborough); They May Not Mean To But They Do (The Lion); Pandora's Box (Curious Festival at The Peoples Show); The Goodnight Bird (Finborough Theatre).

As an assistant director: Festival of the Dead (Nabakov at BAC).

Bethan trained at Middlesex University and is Artistic Director of Jackdaw Theatre Company.

Previews Thu 21 - Wed 27 March
Press Night Thu 28 March (7pm)

Evening performances 7.30pm
Wednesday matinees 2.30pm on 10 April & 1 May
Saturday matinees 2.30pm from 30 March

The running time is approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes including a 15 minute interval.

There will be no performances on Good Friday (29 March) or Easter Monday (1 April).
There will be an evening performance on Monday 6 May.

Happy Mondays
25 March
Talkback Mon 29 April (post performance)
Supporters' Evening Tue 23 April


Caption Performance Captioned Thu 2 May, 7.30pm
Audio-described Sat 27 April, 2.30pm (Touch Tour at 12.45pm)

£8, £16, £24, £32

See seating plan for further details

£8, £16, £22, £26

Concessions* (Jobseekers Allowance, Full-Time Students, Over 60s)
Mon – Thu evenings £16 (normal price £22 / £24)
Wed & Sat matinees £16 (any seat in the house)

Deaf and disabled patrons*
All performances £16 (any seat in the house)

Islington First* Discounted tickets if you live or work in Islington 
Thu 21 - Sat 30 March £20 (best available)
More info

Under 30s*
Valid on all Mondays of the run £16 (best available)
More info

Young Friends of the Almeida
Happy Mondays £5
More info

Educational Group Bookings
Partner schools £12
Other UK state schools £20
Visit the Education section of our website to find out more about these and how to book

*All concessions are subject to availability and proof of eligibility must be presented when booking and collecting tickets.
Arts Council England ASP Group