Theatrical sensation Festen full of surprises

It is one of the most highly-rated theatrical productions to come out of the West End for a long while – but its star says that it’s best enjoyed if you don’t know much about it. Actor Christian Coulson spoke to KEIRON PIM.

Picture the scene: it is a family gathering to mark the 60th birthday of patriarch Helge Klingenfelt at a magnif-icent old house in the Danish countryside.

He is joined by his loyal wife Else, his daughter Helene and sons Christian and Michael, but as the evening progresses Christian feels compelled to break the silence surrounding a dark family secret.

The result is shattering...but if you want to know any more, you'll have to go along to see Festen at the Theatre Royal, because actor Christian Coulson, who plays the eponymous son, isn't giving anything away.

"It's hard to talk about without spoiling it. The less you know about it, the better it is to watch," he says.

"From the reports we've had, people seem to enjoy it more the less they know about it in advance."

Instead, you'll have to trust the plaudits that Festen gained during a triumphant West End run.

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The Independent called it "an embodiment of what theatre should be… Phenomenally brilliant… A work of genius… Utterly essential viewing", while The Sunday Times was only a little more restrained, calling it "electrifying, shocking and profoundly moving… A thrilling modern tragedy".

Nominated for five Olivier Awards including Best New Play, and winner of the Evening Standard awards for direction and design, the Almeida Theatre production is now on national tour, with a new cast including Christian, prior to moving to Broadway.

Christian already has a fair amount of experience of the limelight however - he played Tom Riddle in the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, has appeared on television in the Forsyte Saga and Hornblower and has stage experience including playing Romeo and starring in RC Sherriff's Journey's End. His work has attracted critical acclaim and seen him become something of a pin-up.

The 27-year-old's CV boasts a balance of work between film, television and theatre that would be the envy of many actors of his age. He says that he enjoys performing in a variety of media.

"I think a lot of people go into film having done amateur things on stage, but I didn't have that experience. I enjoy film, but I enjoy having an audience there. There's that sense of expedition with a group of people that doesn't happen in the same way in film. But on a purely financial level it's nice to do both!

"I get turned on by scripts and stories and parts rather than by the medium. Things that I identify with emotionally, where I decide I can bring something to it. Sometimes I will read fantastic parts but I feel like I'm not the right person for the role."

Festen, which means "the celeb-ration", is adapted from Thomas Vinterberg's groundbreaking film of the same name. It launched the Dogme filmmaking movement, a series of Scandinavian movies renowned for their realism and stripped-down production values.

Christian explains that he made a decision not be influenced by the film.

"I haven't seen it - there's a couple of us who haven't. The director said to watch it once I had made the part my own, but when the time came I didn't want to watch it."

The stage version is directed by Rufus Norris from an English-language adaptation by David Eldridge. Christian, who lives in London and gained a First in English Literature at Cambridge, has been pleased by the reception it has received in repertory in Birmingham.

"The audience laugh a lot and seem to be extremely moved," he says.

"Emotionally it's quite a journey every night, and physically it's quite demanding."

And while he plays one of the lead roles, he insists that there are no stars to this production.

"It's very much a company piece, it's about everyone's reactions. Everyone is on stage most of the time."

After a couple of weeks in rep, it is coming to Norwich as the first date in a string of shows all over the UK. Definitely one to catch before the show heads off to New York!

Festen is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, from TuesdayFebruary 21 until Saturday February 23. All performances begin at 7.30pm and there is a 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets cost from £4 to £20. To book call 01603 630000.

The play contains strong material and sensitive subject matter, which some people may find unsuitable for under-15s.

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