Party – Reviewed
A rather hit and miss show from Quirk Productions which swung from mediocre to funny and engaging all through the night. A ‘good’ but not ‘great’ play in which the energy did not quite keep up with the script.
The premise of Party is simple. Five earnest youngsters congregate in a garden shed to form their own political party. Unfortunately, due to their arrogance, mutual dislike, stupidity and ignorance of contemporary politics they fail to achieve any of their goals and even end up (in a brilliantly scathing satire on the Single Transferable Vote System) electing the ‘sweet but dim’ Duncan to lead the party.
In my view this is an intelligent choice of play. It’s relevant, low budget and pacey. Director Dom Riley certainly puts his finger on the spot when he says that the play is driven by ‘acute character comedy’ and ‘biting political satire’. The resulting production however is a little disappointing. True, there are moments of comedic brilliance, but for every five minutes that were quick, energetic and poised there were another five of awkward mediocrity. The set itself did not help, although being very well designed it was too wide to create a suitably tense and bitchy atmosphere. This problem came to the fore most obviously in the exchanges between ultra-feminist ‘Mel’ (Caroline Gaunt) and ‘Jones’ (Ben Anscombe). The actors were placed just a bit too far apart and this distance effectively neutralised their sharp exchanges.
That said however, there is much to praise in this production. Grace Cheatle and Caroline Gaunt in particular stood out. Both possess excellent comic timing and both actors delivered some of the best lines in the play. Furthermore it was usually one or the other that rescued the show from the sections that didn’t quite work (the voting scene in particular springs to mind). Will Clarke also deserves praise for his touching performance as Duncan. He certainly made the most successful connection with the audience, shown by the ‘ooohs’ of pity that echoed around the audience following his revelation that he actually thought he’d been invited to a birthday party, for himself…
The other actors had a little more trouble. Ben Anscombe’s ‘Jones’ was guilty of poor articulation, several lines completely disappearing into the roof of the Assembly Rooms. His characterisation was also a little unconvincing, shouting too many lines far too often which made his character peak a long time before it felt natural. Although pleasingly energetic, John Muething’s ‘Jared’ rather jars in this show. His over-the-top acting seemed more at home in a full blown farce than a political satire.
This did seem to me to be the fundamental problem with the show. It could not quite decide whether to be a ‘full blown farce’ (in which case I would have nothing but praise for Muething) or an intentionally awkward and sarcastic political satire, a sort of teenage version of ‘The Thick of It’. The direction while being at moments inspired (the frantic moments were the best staged, characters rushing around the stage, difficult lines tripping effortlessly from their tongues) was also, for the majority of the play, static and dull, sapping any potential energy from certain scenes.
All in all then, a rather hit and miss show from Quirk Productions which swung from mediocre to funny and engaging all through the night. A ‘good’ but not ‘great’ play in which the energy did not quite keep up with the script.