Unless you have been on a completely different planet over the past couple of years, you will have heard about, and probably played “Cards Against Humanity” a simple game where alcohol and a complete lack of political correctness join forces to shock and surprise the world. Imagine, if you can, if “CAH” was taken one step further and played by a group of people with virtually no social inhibitions. Now, we have a Party which just happens to be the name of the play opening the autumn season in Vauxhall’s Above the Stag Theatre.
In his apartment, Kevin (Nic Kyle) is getting ready to welcome some friends for their monthly get together. He is assisted – if that is the word – by his oldest friend Ray (Ben Kavanagh) who insists on re-arranging the cushions whilst knocking back a large glass of wine. As the intercom buzzes, we get to meet the rest of tonight’s party. The handsome dancer Brian (Jamie Firth). The, equally handsome but in a different way, James (Sam Goodchild). Then the, yes he too is handsome but in a different way again Philip (Lucas Livesy) and finally Kevin’s flatmate, drama student Peter(Stefan Cough) and his young friend Andy (Tom Leach). Once everyone has got a drink, Brian introduces tonight’s game which is called ‘Fact or Fantasy’. A simple game, ‘Fact or Fantasy’, along with liberal amounts of ‘falling down water’ takes the boys on a journey of discovery and revelation that could change them forever.
Within five minutes of Party starting, I knew I was going to like this show. Well, let’s be honest as I walked into the auditorium and started singing along to the show tunes in the background, I was pretty convinced this was going to be a show for me, and I was right. For a start, there was the set, beautifully designed by Andrew Beckett. A fabulous living/dining area, tastefully furnished and decorated with posters from musicals. Seriously I was in seventh heaven before the lights went down. The opening sequence with Kevin and Ray moving the cushions around while the other’s backs were turned was a great piece of comic timing that really set the standard for the whole play – great direction from Gene David Kirk.
The story itself is fairly simple. Seven gay men get drunk and play a card game. They flirt, tease and find out surprising and hidden secrets about each other. However, David Dillon’s writing was spot on. Of course the words and direction are a start but to really bring the show to life needs a talented bunch of actors. And the group assembled for Party really fit the bill perfectly. Whilst all seven actors are very different, they really did appear to be a group of friends and it actually felt like we were just dropped into their evening together, rather like Andy who started out very quiet but soon got into the swing of things. The only issue with this approach is that you have to get to know everyone really quickly without any knowledge of their previous lives. So, for example, there seemed to be some sort of antagonism between the characters of Ray and James, it was never really established why and as I had grown to like the characters, I sort of thought I was missing out on something but not knowing more of their history.
So, my little whinge aside, let’s have a look at the characters. Once more David’s writing shines through and I had met pretty much everyone in that party out in the real world. Interestingly, my favourite character also had the potential to be the most disliked. Somehow though, Ben Kavanagh managed to keep Ray on the right side of irritating so that he was actually rather wonderful. This was so true during his own ‘fact or fiction’ moment which was a truly inspiring and powerful story that really moved me. The other great moment was when Ray’s immediate reaction to Andy’s lack of musical theatre knowledge and the subsequent education session. I have to say that I identified so much with every aspect of Ben’s performance, as I have had pretty much the same conversation with one of my housemates over Sondheim musicals and Matthew Bourne’s choreography. The level of acting from the rest of the cast was equally as high and there were actually times during the ‘fact or fiction’ rounds where I was actually trying to work out if the character was telling the truth or not – then had to remind myself that they were all actors speaking David’s words. One other person to give a mention to and that was Sam Goodchild who, as James, provided one of the funniest moments of the night and left this audience member very flushed and suddenly wishing he had a pop tart.
Sometimes a play defined as gay can work equally as well in a heterosexual environment, but in the case of Party this a 100% gay play. The play relies on a group of people who are totally at ease with themselves and those around them both in a social and physical manner. It also relies on a pretty brave group of actors prepared to give their all, literally, in the pursuance of the art of acting. Party is not Shakespeare, nor is it Proust or Wordsworth. It is simply an amazingly accurate depiction of a group of close friends with few barriers, and possibly fewer morals, having a night at home and playing a harmless game. The writing, direction and acting are spot on and the entire production is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and I absolutely loved it.
Review by Terry Eastham
by David Dillon
directed by Gene David Kirk
designed by Andrew Beckett
lighting designed by Chris Withers
From 7th September, 2016
1 hr 40 mins inc. interval
David Dillon’s classic hit West End and Broadway Comedy
7 gay friends play a game called Fact or Fantasy. It’s a bit like Truth Or Dare. But even more… revealing.
Warning: contains nudity and adult themes
Above The Stag Theatre
London, SW8 1RZ