Theatre review: Festen at the Barbican Centre

Family feuds erupts in this Romanian production challenging the importance of telling the truth

Romanian Theatre returns to the London stage after a decade’s absence with Festen, produced by Nottara Theatre in association with the Romanian Cultural Institute.

Originally the first film to emerge from the Danish Dogme 95 movement (led by Thomas Vinterberg and Lars Von Trier), this new stage version has been adapted by Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov.

The Klingenfeldt-Hansen family has gathered to celebrate the 60th birthday of patriarch Helge. But the celebratory atmosphere quickly turns sour when the son Christian announces he was sexually abused by his father as a child.

The play challenges our response to atrocities and whether, as individuals or societies, we choose to overlook historic horrors in favour of an easy ride in the present day.

The programme notes tell us the production is anchored around the principle creed of the Dogme 95 manifesto: the ensemble at the heart of the production, and the world of the play within each actor. This is immediately obvious, with some of the strongest ensemble acting I have seen in a long time.

The performance space is small, and the cast substantial, yet all 19 players share the space equally and with no regard for who the ‘lead’ roles are supposed to be.

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The programme also contains no biographies of the cast; past credits are clearly deemed irrelevant to this production.

The result is a tightly-knit production of nuanced, perfectly-pitched performances.

Having to follow surtitles mean certain moments of the action are missed, but it is worth it to witness a great display in true ensemble acting from one of Romania’s oldest repertory companies.

* Festen is showing at the Barbican Centre, in Silk Street, EC2, until Saturday, November 19.