A COMEDY of manners with a “real sting in its tail” heads to the main stage of Salisbury Playhouse.

The new production of Rodney Ackland’s Before the Party stars Philip Bretherton, who is best known for television appearances including As Time Goes By alongside Judi Dench.

Based on a short story by W Somerset Maugham, Before the Party is a satirical portrayal of the upper middle classes adjusting to post-war life.

“It is a comedy of manners but it has a real sting in its tail,” says Philip, who plays lawyer father and aspiring Conservative Party candidate Aubrey Skinner.

“It says some wonderful things about the English and about society in 1949 and at the same time revealing that not much has changed. The way we dress may have changed, the manners may have changed, the way we speak may have changed but underneath human nature is always going to be the same.”

Following daughter Laura’s return from Africa, widowed but with a gentleman friend in tow, the family prepares for their latest social gathering. However, revelations could ruin the party and their climb to social success.

“One of their daughters has just returned from Africa and she has a new companion with her. It turns out that her first husband died in Africa under mysterious circumstances. We believe he has died of malaria.

There is a bit more to his death than that,” explains Philip.

“We are not sure we approve of the man she is with. Amongst all these revelations the family tries to maintain decorum at all times.”

And the battles continue behind the scenes with the family’s household staff.

“It is all the hypocrisies and the underlying prejudices of a perfectly upstanding middle class family,” says Philip. “It is how they keep all things together as things fall apart. It is very funny as we see them flailing madly to keep their dignity.”

Despite being set in 1949, Philip says the play “still resonates” with audiences today.

Completing the cast are Sherry Baines, Eleanor Bennett, Katherine Manners, Bathsheba Piepe, Matthew Romain and Roberta Kerr, who will be familiar from her roles in Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

This is the first time Philip has performed at Salisbury Playhouse and he will be joined on stage by his partner Sherry Baines.

Before the Party runs from Thursday, May 4 to Saturday, May 27. For tickets call the box office on 01722 320 333.