Interview: Having a ‘Party’ with Joe Fleming

JA: So, Joe, you’ve been directing ‘Party’, can you tell us what’s on the agenda? JF: Imagine if a bunch of power-hungry but hopelessly uninformed Sub-Honours International Relations students decided […]

JA: So, Joe, you’ve been directing ‘Party’, can you tell us what’s on the agenda?

JF: Imagine if a bunch of power-hungry but hopelessly uninformed Sub-Honours International Relations students decided to establish a new political party inside a cramped garden shed. ‘Party’ offers a window into an early meeting of this hilariously incompetent committee, with the members jostling for position and quarrelling constantly, despite knowing almost nothing. Essentially, it’s an excuse to be very silly indeed and tell dozens of absolutely brilliant jokes. You don’t need a subscription to ‘The Financial Times’ or ‘The Guardian’ to understand it.

JA: And what made you choose this play?

JF: Tom Basden is one of my favourite comedians. He was the Vice-President of the Cambridge Footlights in 2003, and won the “Best Newcomer” award at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007. I saw the original production during its sell-out run at the Fringe in 2009, and it was the most enjoyable hour of my summer. Every leading newspaper critic adored it, and it won a highly prestigious “Fringe First” award from ‘The Scotsman’ in recognition of its wonderful script. BBC commissioners loved ‘Party’ so much that they asked Basden to adapt it for Radio 4.

JA: ‘Party’ was written in 2009. Is the political satire still fresh and relevant?

JF: Oh, most definitely. Few of the jokes in the show are about MPs or major events from 2009. Instead, Basden concentrates on deriding the superficiality surrounding modern politics, and its obsession with swanky branding and entirely meaningless buzzwords. In the show, the party’s members are much more concerned about the colour of their publicity material and the haircut of their leader than they are about formulating thoughtful and substantial policies. Don’t worry if you know very little about current affairs, as the show is really about competitive relationships between ridiculous personalities in the committee.

JA: Basden also co-wrote the TV sitcom ‘Fresh Meat’. Are there any resemblances between it and ‘Party’?

JF: Both shows are about naïve university students failing to make sense of the world around them. Jared, the alpha male in ‘Party’, is very similar to Jack Whitehall’s character, JP – a sleazy, swaggering public schoolboy who is nowhere near as intelligent as he believes he is. Duncan, the perpetually bemused new addition to the committee, is also like Joe Thomas’s character, Kingsley. They both have real difficulties settling into their new surroundings, and viewers feel great pangs of sympathy while witnessing their painfully familiar awkwardness.

JA: The cast have very strong comedy backgrounds – with four of six being members of The St Andrews Revue sketch troupe. Has it been a party to direct, and is the style of humour at all similar to the Revue’s?

JF: This is my first time directing, so I’m fortunate to have some of the finest comic minds in St Andrews in the cast to chip in with extra suggestions. They’re absolutely ideal specimens. It definitely has been a party to direct – we’re getting on like a house on fire, and there’ve been plenty of times when we’ve had to pause the rehearsal to catch our breaths after erupting into fits of laughter. Laura Ferguson, my assistant director, has read the script countless times, yet still finds herself in hysterics during some of the more ridiculous dialogue.

And yes – if you’ve enjoyed the Revue’s shows in the past, you’ll be hugely fond of this. It’s just as diverse in its styles of comedy: highbrow wordplay; ludicrous slapstick; cutting political satire; amusing popular culture references; a few smuttier scenes. I’ve also added in some blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references to St Andrews too. There’s something for everyone. Actually, a handful of things for everyone – a veritable smorgasbord of humorous delights.

JA: And why do you think people should come and see ‘Party’?

JF: It’s packed to the rafters with ingenious one-liners, so seamlessly inserted into the script that it often takes a few seconds to notice the joke. I’d recommend keeping both dates free because you might want to come back to the second show to catch every final punch line. Overall, it should form a tremendously entertaining evening – perhaps even the best of your life. But that depends on what else you’ve done so far and how well all of it went.

‘Party’ goes up at the Byre on Tuesday 16th October and Wednesday 17th at 8pm. Tickets are £5 and you are all invited.