REVIEW: A dazzling and savage House Party on the Chichester stage

Rachelle Diedericks and Nadia Parkes in The House Party at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Ellie KurttzRachelle Diedericks and Nadia Parkes in The House Party at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Ellie Kurttz
Rachelle Diedericks and Nadia Parkes in The House Party at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Ellie Kurttz
The House Party, an adaptation of Miss Julie by August Strindberg in a co-production with Headlong in association with Frantic Assembly, Minerva Theatre, until Sat, June 1.

​The Minerva won’t have hosted many parties quite as savage and shocking as this one. Quite how much it owes to August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, on which The House Party is based, is something you could probably argue endlessly, but you walk away thinking he would surely approve – almost entirely, certainly in its depiction of just how awful we can be to each other.

Laura Lomas has taken the Swedish playwright’s 1888 epic and relocated it to the here and now in this very moment. She’s brought with her all his obsession with class and his fascination with human destructiveness, but maybe her most daring departure is to inject it with a huge dollop of hope which was completely beyond poor old August. Here, however, it sets the seal on a dazzling, brilliant theatrical experience carried by superb performances and fresh and truly innovative staging. If you are brave enough, you can opt for immersive tickets which will take you onto the stage itself to sit as guests at the wildest of house parties. Adding to it all, at a couple of key moments, a group of dancers bursts onto the stage and brings the house down.

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And it’s against all this that Strindberg’s tragic triangle is reimagined for 2024, the whole thing reinvented as an 18th birthday party from hell. Celebrating it and utterly out of control is our latter-day Miss Julie, now simply Julie and quite brilliantly played by Nadia Parkes. It’s mind-boggling that this is actually her stage debut. She is a total stage natural as she creates the most awful and most damaging of creatures, the poor-little-rich-girl party animal whose every excess is a cry for help. Parkes gives us the destructiveness, but she also gives us the vulnerability which lies behind it. She’s a wrecker because she’s wrecked, damaging because she is so damaged, carrying a weight of trauma which explains everything and – thanks to Parkes’s performance – makes you (well, almost) forgive everything. If we see a performance to equal it all summer, we will have been truly spoilt.

Wonderfully impressive too from Rachelle Diedericks in her third CFT production in three years, after the landmark Our Generation a couple of years ago and A View from the Bridge last year. Once again she confirms herself an exceptional performer – exceptional for the way she recreates sheer ordinariness, giving us a character so believable in her hopes and her despair and ultimate strength.

Midway between the two is Josh Finan – seen here a couple of years ago in The Southbury Child – as Jon, and again it’s the believability which makes this such a powerful performance. The nervous smile, the desperation to get away, the aspirations, his weakness and the consequences of that weakness are all beautifully played as he tumbles to the sexual power games that Julie so wilfully plays.

It all plays at a cracking pace but has the effect of a slow-motion car crash, acting of the highest order unpicking behaviour of the lowest and yet still making us feel for all concerned, all beautifully teased out by director Holly Race Roughan. It’s difficult to believe that Strindberg would have approved of the coda, but on the night, boy, we needed it. A superb start to the Minerva season – and to CFT artistic director Justin Audibert’s time in charge of our studio theatre.