Party: A Tale of Fools and Lemon-Drizzle Cakes

Peter von Zahnd praises the theatrical choices in 'Party'As I walked into the Byre shortly before the premiere of the play, I briefly wondered if I would grasp every aspect of a play revolving around politics : avowedly, I am not that familiar with the subject-matter. Luckily for me, and to the general delight of the audience, neither were the characters.  The plot is as simple as it is efficient : four university students are gathered in a garden shed (or is it a summerhouse?) and strive, without much success, to make up their mind as to what could possibly go into the manifesto- none of them really knowing what on earth they are doing. A fifth character, the jovial and ever so slightly awkward Duncan, is their latest recruit.  Not because he is strongly political (one wonders what he’s doing there in the first place), but a potential marketing goldmine, as his father runs… a minor printer’s shop.As a consequence of Tom Basden’s skilfull (and very cheeky) writing, comedy sprouts everywhere. As the play went on I found myself expecting a joke with every new line spoken by the characters, and I was seldom disappointed. Part of the text’s intelligence is that it sometimes relies on comical bombs that are temporarily defused and explode later on in the performance. Thus Mel’s aggressive refusal to drink the coffee no matter what, dramatises the action, exposes some of the conflicts that run between the characters, and leaves the audience speculating as to why the hell the coffee is not to be consumed. Later on, as the merry troupe are struggling with ethical choices whose implications they know nothing about, the reason is revealed : ‘It’s not fair trade!’. A lot of noise for not much, especially as Mel is arguing on the side that her car certainly ‘could kill a small child’.Party couldn’t have quite hit the mark without the general skill of the actors, though, and much praise is due to Joe Fleming for his theatrical choices. The almost static blocking (fot it is, overall, a static play, where nothing is ever reached) is intelligent, but whenever they move, the actors do it well. One of the most delightfully awkward situations emerges when an overly keen Duncan (Joe Fleming) stands up to fill everyone’s glass of water to the brim, unaware of the decidedly perplexed expressions of the other characters – who don’t particularly want any water. Fleming’s general tone and motions blend well into his character: a confused – and a bit thick – awkward young man who just thought he was going to his own birthday party. As Jared, the wannabe leader of the bunch, Christy White-Spunner gives his character the  right blend of pseudo-political passion (which he does almost languidly), and of patronising pomposity: ‘Abstention? Don’t be ridiculous, it’s pronounced abstaintion.’ Amanda Litherland’s very energetic portrayal of Mel, a somewhat vituperative know-it-all, works very well, especially as it mirrors the roughness of her male antagonist, Jones (Ollie Clayton), who, sat on the opposite side of the stage, sends her the ball back with equal intensity. Phoebe, the candid secretary of ‘taking notes’, is played by Shayna Layton, whose hilarious facial expressions and slower rhythm find a fitting place among a crowd of louder characters.Overall the comic timing of the lines was very solid, flowing intellegibly enough to be processed and quickly enough not to become redundant. A few comical elements, however, were somewhat overemphasised, and, I thought, lost some of  their taste in the process: the link between a rainbow flag and homosexuality, for instance, was hinted at (and understood by the audience), hinted at again and lingered on, and finally expressed.Past a certain point, it becomes obvious that Duncan is about to be elected president- unwillingly and unintentionally. When he declines the offer to resign and walks back to his chair, the comedic tone, for the first and only time, is dropped. ‘I could resign… but I don’t think I will’, he gravely states. The other four look at him and at each other, genuinely dismayed and left wondering how on earth they got there and what they can possibly achieve with him at the head of their ill-born party. This interesting atmosphere of thick anxiety does not last, and as he sits back facing the audience, it is easy to guess at the subject-matter of the play’s last line : ‘Now, how about that cake ?’ Although predictable, this final passage hints at another comical element: it’s his birthday and he just wants a slice of lemon drizzle cake. Once he’s satisfied, he assumedly will resign and leave the incompetent party members free to start again where they left off – that is, not far. The audience, however, has been much amused.Peter von ZahndImage: Jake Threadgould