Review: House Party
Tab reviewers are unanimous – the concept is exciting but somehow this party isn’t quite happening.
Tuesday 2nd – Saturday 6th, 7.30, Secret Location, £10.
Directed by Lauren Cooney.
DUNCAN STIBBARD HAWKES is surprised he enjoyed this ‘ambitious mess’ as much as he did:
What on earth could a play called ‘House Party’ be about? The tragic tale of an oppressive Middle Eastern regime? Maybe a tender celebration of the life and times of Hugh Laurie? No. House Party is a play at a party in a house or, more aptly, a play in a house about a party. Either way, this isn’t your every day, run of the mill ‘don’t break the fourth wall’ piece of theatrical entertainment. House Party actually takes place in a real house and tells the tale of the five teenage denizens of a party as they undergo the trails and tribulations of normal social interaction, potential romance and a preponderance of awkward Brechtian pseudo-surrealist nonsense.
In terms of the initial build-up and atmosphere, House Party couldn’t be faulted. The cab ride from the theatre towards an undisclosed venue in the dark heart of Cambridge was genuinely quite exciting. Upon arriving we were slowly ushered in to someone’s back garden – the audience had been encouraged to bring their drinks from the ADC bar and, as they filtered in, it genuinely felt that we’d just arrived at a real, y’know, house party. The set was perfect, the house that had been chosen for the venue had been kitted out with lanterns and a marquee in the garden, a rather decent or, at the very least, authentic DJ in the kitchen and even cups upon cups of grim-tasting lager, just like they had at those youthful sixth form piss-ups of yesteryear. Everything was thoroughly immersive and continued to be so right up to the point that the show actually started.
Sadly, this is when things began to go down hill. The audience were herded from room to room and gradually introduced to the five women and two men. Character development seemed to have been forsaken in favour of surreality and it was boarderline impossible to differentiate between the three female leads. This would have been excusable if the surreality itself hadn’t been so banal. The particular lowest of the lowlights was a scene where the lead male recited a poem made up of drug names while throwing sherbet tubes at people and one where the audience were made to sit on the floor and listen to the three girls nonsensically soliloquising in between bouts of inane chanting. The narrative was equally dire and the entire plot was, as far as I can tell, ‘Two guys liked one girl and so had a fight and then one of them played the piano’. No. Really. That’s it. And it wasn’t really a fight, more an awkwardly choreographed stationary dance.
As a play, House Party was rather a mess, albeit an ambitious one, and so its surprising that I really enjoyed it. The music was very well done, particularly the scene where some fellow played pop songs on an accordion. The acting may even have been good if it hadn’t been so constrained by the appalling script. Most of all, though, I enjoyed watching the other members of the audience reacting to strange the situations into which they were thrust. I liked that, at times, you couldn’t tell who was an actor and who wasn’t. I liked it when a huge cup of beer was passed around the kitchen and people didn’t know whether to drink it or pass it on. I liked it when one girl couldn’t fit though a door. It was also refreshing to see someone attempt something completely different, even if it fell flat on its face.
All in all then, House Party was an ambitious and interesting production with a fine atmosphere and fantastic music which was let down by poor choreography and a woefully terrible script. Interesting, often horribly awkward and ultimately enjoyable, just like the real thing.
PHOEBE LUCKHURST feels a tiny bit more generous:
*** and a half.
If you really think about it, theatre, as a concept, is pretty odd. You sit in a dark room, with, by and large, a crowd of strangers which is profoundly bizarre and awkward. What if you brush the hand of the person next to you during a romantic scene in the play? Are you basically having theatre sex with them? House Party experiments – and revels in – the awkwardness of this shared experience of theatre.
On arrival the audience were vetted for your suitability (“You? I like. You? Take a hike”), splitting us into two groups, which determined which parts of the narrative you saw in what order. It’s true that I didn’t leave with a particularly clear overall perception of the trajectory of any sort of plot, but I don’t think that was what House Party was meant to be about. The physical theatre was highly entertaining, the set must have been a logistical nightmare, but was well worth any such night visions of terror, and the actors and actresses seemed to have a unique talent for picking the most awkward member of the motley crew for their version of audience participation (be it the direction of a particularly venomous line, the application of bright red lipstick – to the forehead – or a particularly energetic dance). You were at a house party and you felt sixteen.
It was bizarre, spectacular in its execution – line delivery was often hyperbolic, but it worked – but simultaneously an un-spectacle, because it was just a group of mates having a party which you’d sort of stumbled upon (OK, by way of a £10 ticket, but still). I’ve seen some wonderful reinterpretations of classic plays, but no matter how many avant-garde dance routines they feature, they remain, to a degree, very conventional; vive la difference, I was invited, so I felt like one of the cool kids. House Party is definitely worth a watch.