Wednesday, 17 January 2001

T.S. Eliot: The Cocktail Party (1949)

Edition: Faber & Faber, 1969 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 717

Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne are about to hold a cocktail party in their London flat when Lavinia leaves Edward; the first act has Edward meeting those of their friends that he has been unable to contact. These include a man who is a stranger to him, who promises to help him sort his life out. This man turns out to be a rather strange philosophical psychologist, and the second act takes place in his office where meetings are contrived between various of the characters, including the woman Edward was having an affair with (the partner in Lavinia's affair has gone to California to work on the script for a film).

The question behind The Cocktail Party is how much we understand other people. The psychologist plays a key role in revealing something unknown about the other characters to themselves and each other. This new knowledge plays a big part in their lives from that point on, as it sends one character to her death, and brings the Chamberlaynes back together again.

Like Eliot's other plays, much of The Cocktail Party is intellectual and dry in tone. It has some interesting things to say, though I don't think it is the kind of play I would enjoy on stage.

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