There is one word that springs to mind to describe the thrilling experience that was watching ‘Party’ – FAB-U-LOUS!
It’s not often that a comedy is this effective in producing consistent laugh-out-loud reactions from an audience, but there was no shortage here. It was rather like watching a saucy version of ‘Friends’, except with seven gay men and lots of nudity (which I happen to think is far more entertaining).
‘Party’ was first performed in November of 1992 in Chicago, USA, and written by David Dillion. It has since experienced international success and numerous revivals, but now it’s found its way to London once again, to the wonderful Above the Stag Theatre. Above the Stag is situated under a renovated railway arch, boasting a great bar and a good-sized space for seating and stage, with a brilliantly energetic atmosphere.
I definitely heard a few hearts break in the audience over the course of the two halves – an excellent cast of handsome, charming, eloquent young actors has been chosen for this rendition of ‘Party’, with superb direction from Gene David Kirk and a flawless delivery of lines and movement from all. The characters are timeless, just as accessible now as they were when originally put on stage for a 90s audience. We are invited in to observe the friends play ‘Fact or Fiction’, whereby, depending on the card they choose, the characters relay personal anecdotes to the other players or indulge in some raunchy fantasies, eliciting much entertainment for us all. However, it was the variety of stories that we hear which struck me as particularly insightful. I like the way that Dillion’s script not only flows at a realistic pace, but also makes several observations on both the challenges of and life experience gained from being a young gay man in (in this revival, British) society. We observe some tender moments of reflection, but also moments of joy and teeth-baring humour as these anecdotes are shared; ultimately relating powerful truths of the journey involved with learning how to harmoniously interlock one’s sexuality and identity.
The stark nudity, dialogue and exposure to sexually-charged ‘fantasies’ shocks our underlying social bashfulness towards nakedness and sex – which, even nowadays, are both still rather ‘British’-ly dealt with in social situations (ie: either shrugged under the rug completely or mentioned in conjunction with nervous laughter and an awkward shuffle). ‘Party’ champions the transgressive, unapologetically presenting these topics for what they are: human genitalia is not something to be squirmed at, and a man kissing another man is really very normal. In fact, I think I’d call this play a work of what should be compulsory education – it might do society a favour to challenge its ideas towards the expression of homosexuality and nudity in the way that ‘Party’ does with its audience.
Dillon has reportedly been asked to modernise the play so that it’s set in 2016, but I agree with his desire to keep it firmly set in the 90s – it’s refreshing to take a look back at how parties were enjoyed and friendships were explored before technology somewhat saturated nights in with friends. ‘Party’ is a pleasant reminder to all that’s truly needed for a brilliant night in: good company, something you enjoy drinking and a simple game, seeing where it takes you. Wouldn’t so many current-day parties be a lot more fun if Sandra wasn’t having a Facebook Messenger argument with her not-so-BFF over by the punch bowl and Dan wasn’t obsessed with getting 370 selfies with everyone to show he’s having the #bestnightever (but not actually talking to anyone)? I certainly think so.
‘Party’ is a celebration of homosexuality, love and sex, projecting the true strength of friendship and togetherness that the LGBT community proudly promotes. If you are faint-hearted, a prude or don’t have much of a sense of humour, this isn’t the show for you – but if you’ve got a sense of humour and haven’t been living under rock for the past twenty years, you need to get yourself down to see ‘Party’ asap.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
PARTY plays at Above The Stag until 30 October 2016