I was reading recently that there is not enough good old fashioned political thinking and activism in UK universities these days. I only mention this because back in 2009, writer Tom Basden addressed this very point in his play Party which has been revived by the Bridge Arts Company at Islington’s Pleasance Theatre..
In the shed – aka summerhouse – belonging to Jared’s (George Vafakis) family, four students have met to put together the manifesto for their new political party. In many respects, they are a pretty standard representative bunch of middle class students – painfully aware of their lives (they would all love to be working class if possible) and ready to fight any cause that is politically correct, after a long brainstorm about it first of course. Whilst would be leader Jared does try to keep the meeting going – after all they have to decide their foreign policy on every country in the UN – he is continually being thwarted by his comrades. He seems to spend a lot of time stopping Mel (Elizabeth Hope) and Jones (Tom Scurr) from going at each other whilst pernickety note-taker Phoebe (Florence Hapgood) gets lost amongst the pages of her clipboard. Also amongst the group is besuited working man Duncan (Luke de Belder) who, is friends with Jones and brings something very useful to the new force in British politics. It is fairly clear from the start that all five are pretty politically naive – in Duncan’s case he is definitely more interested in cake than the blasphemous discussion on what the ‘H’ in Jesus H Christ stands for. But they are young, eager and full of good if not fully founded ideas. What they really need is someone who is politically aware and astute. Enter Short Coat (Steve Hodgetts) a fellow student – doing a political science course – who just might be able to help them. Will they welcome the appropriately named Short Coat into their midst or will his fairly obvious proletarian background count against him in Jared’s party of equality and free speech for all?
As I was watching this production of Party I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had seen or heard something amazingly similar before. And then I remembered. The play had been taken by the author and turned into a really good sit-com on Radio 4 a few years earlier. This was a bit of a shame because I was seeing the earliest version of the play and to be honest it didn’t entirely work for me. Whilst there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the production, I did feel that a trick had been missed in the writing and that an effort should have been made to update it. There are so many things to laugh at in politics that some of the things the protagonists argued about just felt a bit dated.
However, having said that, the cast did a pretty good job of delivering the story and I particularly liked George Vafakis’ portrayal of Jared – a sort of spoiled child on the verge of a spoiled adulthood. During the debate on who should be leader, I was really waiting for Jared to point out it was his summerhouse so he should be. The other characters each had their own idiosyncrasies which defined their personality pretty well so that it was fairly easy to identify the type of people they were. Again, I did think a trick was missed with Short Coat. He was introduced in an odd way and then didn’t really get a chance to establish himself. Although not on stage for long it was obvious there was potentially wonderful comic opportunities for this politically knowledgeable student to interact with the naive students.
Director Zach James keeps the pace moving well and at just about an hour running time Party flows nicely from its slightly odd start – everyone stood around with their arm in the air to the final line from Duncan reminding everyone to concentrate on what is important in the world.
Overall, then Party wasn’t a bad production to watch. It gave a nice slice of the naivety of the young when – and sometimes the old – when dealing with the world of politics and raised some interesting points about the priorities in starting new political party. By the end, I was left wondering what would become of each of them after they completed their degree and left university. Thankfully, in my thoughts – and for the good of the country, none of them had anything to do with politics ever again.
Review by Terry Eastham
BRIDGE ARTS PRESENTS: Party by Tom Basden
Politics. Such a messy game. With Boris Johnson, Jez Corbyn…. and Donald Trump blasting his way through the political scene across the pond, it can’t be that difficult to be taken seriously in politics, can it?
Bridge Arts presents Party, Tom Basden’s hilarious, critically-acclaimed comedy about revolutionaries who are pro-cake and anti-pillaging.
Mel, Martin, Phoebe and Jared are here to change the world. Every great political movement has to start somewhere. In this case, Martin’s mum’s shed is the nerve centre of groundbreaking policy creation on the stuff that really matters: climate change, bike tax, unfair trade coffee, and how to pronounce “abstention”.
When an unassuming stranger stumbles in, his difficult questions throw their policy creation off-track. How do they navigate the muddy waters of foreign policy, sex trafficking, and most importantly, what that film was called where Richard Gere clones his own arm?
After their sold out run of Love In The 21st Century, Bridge Arts is bringing Party, to The Pleasance, Islington. On from Tuesday 1st March to Sunday 13th March 2016. Show times are Tuesday to Saturday 19.45 and Sundays at 17.30. Running time is 60 mins.
1st- 13th March
Stage Space – Pleasance London
Suitable for ages 12 and above
London N7 9EF