first night


A wise choice of script for Quirk Productions. Hannah Howie reviews...

Quirk Productions’ Party by Tom Basden certainly lived up to the company’s name. From the moment of entering the auditorium, the audience is invited into the throng by the characters themselves and bombarded with agendas, minutes from ‘the Party’s last meeting’ and a world map littered with humorous scribbles. Initially, everything is a little bizarre and if you are looking for a quiet evening at the theatre, perhaps this is not the production for you.

Set in a garden shed, five young idealists attempt to set up a political party, complete with a constitution, elections and individual ministerial roles. A political satire, it is easy to see why this play shone at the Fringe before being transported to the West End. The script is simply excellent, nimbly bouncing between topics such as consumerist greed, the Chinese language and fair-trade coffee with quick-witted one-liners, asides and comedic moments; a directorial gift. Moreover it is clear that Basden has clear empathy with the human craving to be recognised with little understanding of the required practicalities. Perhaps the greatest irony of Party is the political proactivity it encourages all whilst achieving very little. Nonetheless, the role-reversal at the end of the plot (I won’t spoil it) was particularly satisfying and rounded off what was an enjoyable watch.
Although an essentially static work, the contrast director Dom Riley achieved by using movement at key moments worked effectively in breaking the stalemate, boasting greater comedic success. Ben Anscombe’s character of ‘Jones’ leaving the shed, only to strut angrily behind the set observed through two well-placed windows was a particularly well-crafted moment. Another would be the surge of feminist anger, led by Caroline Gaunt’s ‘Mel’ triggering a verbal crescendo over the head of a seated Duncan, complete with hand-raised in the manner of an awkward school boy – hilarious.
The need for strong characterisation was paramount in this production as a result of the emphasis Riley clearly placed upon the script. The audience were not disappointed with the likes of Grace Cheatle’s ‘Phoebe’, effortlessly stealing attention with her felicitous, naïve and ditzy interjections. John Muething’s onstage dynamism was certainly a requirement in this cast, as his energy was sometimes the only thing pushing the script forward. The show was skilfully puppeteered however, by Will Clarke’s excellent portrayal of the socially-awkward Duncan. Clarke’s facial expressions, repetitive mannerisms and offish charm won over the audience immediately, whilst his comic timing ensured his every line was eagerly anticipated.
The production would have benefited greatly if upstaged another five feet. Riley clearly wished to build upon the relationship between audience and character, and yet the fringe remained untrodden throughout the entirety of the play detracting from greater intimacy. Moreover, the initial introduction into the theatre with character-audience intermingling, although novel, did seem a little contrived and paradoxically worked to alienate certain audience members.
Regarding the dramatic execution of the script, at times lines were clearly anticipated whilst Anscombe’s shifts from cool to angry were somewhat bipolar and therefore appeared forced. Although the general pace was fitting, silence was occasionally overused and some moments required more commitment from the actor concerned to achieve the envisioned comedic effect.
Overall, Quirk’s Party is one which will appeal to many a student in Durham, being an admirable take on what is an excellent script. Note to self – drink fair-trade coffee.

* * * *

Hannah Howie

2 December 2011

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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