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FringeReview UK 2024

The House Party

Headlong Theatre in association with Frantic Assembly

Genre: Adaptation, Drama, Feminist Theatre, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: Chichester Festival Minerva Theatre


Low Down

Miss Julie again? This, as the name suggests, is radically different. Just as another Michael Meyer translation of the play is scheduled for June at Park Theatre, Laura Lomas’ The House Party opens at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, directed by Holly Race Roughan till June 1st. 

A thrilling must-see.


Directed by Holly Race Roughan, Set Designer Loren Elstein, Costume Designer Maybelle Laye, Lighting Designer Joshua Pharo, Music and Sound Director Giles Thomas, Movement Director Scott Graham, Intimacy Director Haruka Kuroda, Wigs, Casting Director Matilda James CDG

Assistant Director Julia Head, Voice & Dialect Coach Aundrea Fudge, Production Manager Kat Ellis, Costume Supervisor Maybelle Laye, Props Supervisor  Fahmida Bakht

Company Stage Manager KtMilne, Deputy Stage Manager Emma Cook,  Assistant Stage Managers Alex Jaouen

Till June 1st


Miss Julie again? This, as the name suggests, is radically different. Just as another Michael Meyer translation of the play is scheduled for June at Park Theatre, Laura Lomas’ The House Party opens at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, directed by Holly Race Roughan till June 1st.

Though we’re used to updated but faithful versions like Patrick Marber’s, setting the 1888 play in 1945, even Polly Stenham’s 2018 Julie at the National strained at the question: how make the Strindberg believable if set now? At the moment I was watching Julie, midsummer eve (as it happened) police discovered the body of Love Island’s Sophie Gradon. Suddenly suicide from social pressures didn’t seem so remote.

Those pressures take centre stage here. Lomas though strips back Strindberg’s play far more radically. Class is still a factor, but class shame has almost vanished, though not slut-shaming. There’s a new long introduction between Julie and Christine, and a relatively brief Act Two.

Structurally it’s recognisable. Tonally Strindberg’s been bounced. Thankfully. Misogyny’s still lurking, crucially in peer-judgement, even in Jon, but the balance is altered.

Christine’s centre-stage, and though it’s Julie’s 18th (now at the winter solstice) and the ensemble gyrates on the kitchen aisle, it’s still just the three principals who speak. Nuanced round a cycle of co-dependency and privilege, each owes the other something.

Christine’s got an interview at Cambridge tomorrow, but had best friend Julie to influence her father to take on her unqualified but bright boyfriend Jon as an intern. Jon doesn’t know; and Julie doesn’t know Christine’s got an interview.

From the same council estate as Jon, Christine’s been put upon and Julie wants her to jet off to the sun with her next day. Jon’s mother, now ill, used to clean here. It’s how they all met. Now Christine’s clearing up mess of a different order.

It starts like any two besties drinking and prepping for a wild-ride party, in the gleaming kitchen with only a central aisle for company. Christine (Rachel Diedericks) is both sassy and volatile on occasion, but a moral compass when everything spins out.

It’s she who insists Julie’s father isn’t having incest with a woman because she’s just 24; and upbraids Julie who’s tried to abort her dog’s pregnancy by crushing morning-after pills in with her biscuits. And Christine looks after ailing “French bulldog” aka pug Diana (dialogue’s peppered with jokes like that). Diedericks has a blistering agency, her Christine mixing friendship with minder-mode for the increasingly unhinged – and lonely – Julie.

Lomas locates Julie’s vulnerability not in a man but in potentially losing the one person who loves her: to Cambridge, Jon, or the world Christine’s so capable in. With Julie’s mother dead – ironically by doing what Strindberg’s Julie tried to do – Christine’s being mother to her, and to her own ailing mother, with Jon’s help.

Julie (Nadia Parkes) has a trigger reason to be vulnerable tonight:  text-dumped by boyfriend Felix “on her birthday” explains Christine to Jon in the next tableau which eases into Strindberg proper. She’s drinking, later overhears Christine’s news, and later still things go viral.

What Parkes and Lomas bring is that mix of fragility and toughness the entitled own: Julie’s recognizable: indeed you’d almost say it’s what Stenham might have written, had she not stuck to her NT brief. Lomas’ dramaturgy though is as thrillingly swervy as it is detailed.

Parkes brings Julie’s flailing dependency and last-ditch cunning to a head when she and Jon are alone. Parkes is excellent at registering capricious decision born of spoilt whim; yet also the way this Julie haunts shadows to overhear the worst of herself.

Jon’s Josh Finan made a deep impression as loose cannon in The Southbury Child here in 2022, and as dangerously vulnerable in the Papatango-Award-winning prison drama Shook at Southwark in 2019.

You feel he’d make an excellent Jean too. Here though as a Geordie in London, Finan’s Jon is both eloquently reticent, and conveys awe of both Christine and Julie, who left him heartbroken just watching her as a child as his mother cleaned: a Strindberg detail (like many) Lomas studs throughout. Just as tellingly Jon overheard comments that his best green Nike shirt was derided as his only shirt.

There’s another telling moment when Jon (a little like Jean) instinctually resorts to his mother’s job: he cleans the kitchen-aisle top as if it’s a crime-scene.

Lomas’s dialogue is excellent, overlapping and riotously contemporary, even when Giles Thomas’ music and sound up in volume as shorts go down along with inhibitions. Haruka Kuroda’s intimacy co-ordination is needed more than the obligatory; blackouts are eloquent.

Though Parkes and Finan convincingly bond over his admissions, you feel Jon’s bond with Christine is stronger. To Julie’s “you said you loved me” Jon’s “No. I said I was heartbroken” locates his obsession as historic.

The thrust of this piece though isn’t Julie’s tragedy any more, even though events impel her. As Act Two shows, there’s more than one possible tragedy or outcome. Whilst this act is one of patient reveals, it’s more an aftermath with a future.

Loren Elstein’s set is a sumptuously minimal space, with marbled central aisle, wide steps with lighting fitted, and where the ensemble sit at the sides: mute witnesses – and judges – throughout. Maybelle Laye’s costumes spring gorgeous surprises and one of this production’s qualities is to highlight both chameleon class-shifts and eroticism in a change of shirt.

Ensemble with some welcome age-blind casting (for an 18th too) are from Frantic Assembly, thrillingly drilled in Scott Graham’s movement direction and where Joshua Pharo’s lighting parties: Amaia Naima Aguinaga, Oliver Baines, Cal Connor, Micah Corbin-Powell, Lyla Garner-Gibbons, Jaheem Pinder, Jamie Randall, Charlotte Stubbs, Priya Udin, Grace Watkins.

This mightn’t be Strindberg exactly but it’s the most convincing contemporary retelling we have. It diffuses the original tragedy – not a credible option in 2024 – for wider damage: instead of one desperate course there’s buffeting every which way: and this production shows its lethal potential.  A thrilling must-see.