Party (Oxfringe)

Sat 2nd – Tue 5th June 2012

reviews

Tim Bano

at 01:40 on 3rd Jun 2012

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In an over-zealous attempt to stalk Tim Key, to please a friend and to fulfil the desperate yearning in my soul for comedic excellence I rushed around Edinburgh in 2009 to see all the productions by the Invisible Dot, Simon Pearce’s mysterious, underground comedy movement. This included Mark Watson’s The Hotel, Tim Key’s Slutcracker and Tom Basden’s Party with a cast featuring Key and Basden himself. Having seen this, I can completely understand why OUP’s drama society would choose to stage it; the script is simply fantastic. The acting slightly less so.

The play is about a group of five students who want to form a political party in a shed in suburbia. It is an exquisite and completely believable transferral to the stage of all the inane conversations that housemates have about politics – whether Armenia is a good or a bad thing, despite the fact that neither side knows a single thing about Armenia, or how many Muslims there are in Bradford. As in real life, the complete lack of knowledge on both sides does not prevent these arguments from getting heated for no reason. In a discussion about climate change one of the characters points out “Some people don’t believe in climate change – like Clarkson and Johnny Ball.” “How do they explain winter?” another replies. Ridiculous, uninformed, funny.

The stage is set well: a couple of fold-out chairs, a wicker armchair with an old, mucky floral print cushion; a stepladder, terracotta pots, a dying plant and a Dalek figurine – a typical garden shed. And from the beginning there is familiarity. It reminded me of being in a JCR meeting – endlessly discussing and voting on the most minor, futile things about which no one really cares.

Despite a superb script, the acting was mediocre at times. Simon Halliday as Jones flip-flops from good moments, when he is bored, bulshy and irritable, to less convincing moments. Likewise, Jared (Gareth Meager) is sometimes very good, but overall a little bit flat. The character of Jared does not have a clue, but acts like he does and Meager does not get this across, so he is not wholly believable as the gormless and sleazy but well-meaning idiot that he is. Meagan Reed plays Mel – the most informed of the group, but arrogant and dominating. Reed, like Halliday and Meager, does not rely on subtlety but rather regurgitates lines with exaggerated facial expression and a bit of a change of intonation. There is room for exaggeration, however, in Calum Mitchell’s character Duncan. Mitchell well conveys the sort of really annoying person who has only been invited because he is useful. His high-pitched, nasal whine is grating but pleasingly so because he is really the only member of the cast who makes the character his own, who takes it over. Bernice McDonnell as Phoebe is great: sensible, calm, endearing.

The direction has left the cast quite static and this lack of movement means that the actors rely completely on the strength of the script; fortunately for them that script really is strong enough to hold up. At times the acting is all a little too ‘am dram’ considering how believable the characters are, how easily they speak, how unaware they are of their own humour. The actors are, I think, too aware of how funny they are. But, for the script, this is a good thing. This play is very funny and that fact alone means that you really, really should buy a ticket. Basden is an intelligent, innovative, outstanding comic talent who should be more famous. For young, funny writing it does not get much better.

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Lucy Wood

at 23:40 on 3rd Jun 2012

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Prior to seeing Tom Basden’s ‘Party’ at the Old Fire House this Sunday, it was commented to me that going to see an adaption of a Radio Four play (in turn an adaption of a highly successful Edinburgh Fringe show) was rather an odd way to spend an evening, particularly given the promise of free Jubilee drinks in college. Nevertheless, the rest of the audience and I blithely battered our way through the rain and turfed up in a cosy set, complete with garden furniture, coffee pots and wine bottles, and settled ourselves in. It was quickly apparent that those commenters from earlier were the ones missing out. Not only is Basden’s writing on typically sparkling form (any fans of the radio series have nothing to fear from the script) but the cast has been carefully selected, and each are well suited to their character, finding an easy balance and a quick wit which complimented the script.

The individual performances were generally of a high standard, and especially so for an amateur production (particular praise must be given to Calum Mitchell’s Duncan and to Gareth Meager’s Jared, who both pushed the comic elements of the show), even if they did take a little while to warm up. The script did also seem to fit well the abilities and strengths of all involved – in fact, before going, it almost seemed a little too obvious: the Oxford University Press and the Radio Four show. The ease of the conversations between the characters (to be largely put down to the script) is of particular note, and would come across as naturally by the water cooler as it would in the student flat. The production as a whole, however, was perhaps a little too reliant on the quality of the script, and maybe somewhat in awe of the series which they often emulated rather than recreated. This often meant that where there was room for innovation, particularly in the movement or visual aspects of the script, the opportunity was generally not taken, or similarly when characters might have been developed to suit that production specifically, things were often simply left as they were. There is a reason that often actors recreating classic tv serials or novels in film will have minimal exposure to the material beforehand: over-awe is just one of them. The script, however, sparkled, and the actors did a sterling performance. For any Radio Four lovers (and don’t pretend you’re not), it’s a must.

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