Ross Sutherland’s Party Trap is a palindromic political tragedy, whereby the second half delivers each line from the first in reverse order. Through the constraints of this form, Sutherland attempts to emphasise the harshness of media manipulation on political agendas, by literally applying a role reversal in the centre of the play. After a half of television journalist Sir David Bradley (Simon Hepworth) interviewing Amanda Barkham MP (Zara Plessard), the roles are switched and lines reallocated, leading to a torturous second act.
The first ten minutes or so is intriguing. There is something slightly absurd, abstract, almost sinister about Hepworth’s command of the stage. It just doesn’t have much development. The first ten minutes is about as interesting as it gets. It doesn’t manage to fight its audience back until the sawing off of an ear in the second half; but it’s sort of lost us by this point. Credit to Bradley, but the acts wears thin pretty quickly. Joined by Plessard, the layers are building, yet she is almost uncomfortable in her suit which she awkwardly moves around in, never quite matching her movement with the confident delivery of the text.
Video and sound effects all intertwine with the text to create this unusual masterpiece of an idea, yet the idea itself doesn’t seem to take off anywhere. Moments which are made to feel like clues to the unravelling just fold back into nothing; a second glass of water on the table in Bradley’s home and his attitude to women, after the passing of his late wife, build up a character which, due to the format, can never be explored. Party Trap is a creative experiment, which sounds nice in theory, but ultimately doesn’t hold enough meat to refrain from being dull.
The issue is that without an appreciation of the work that has gone in to maintain the structure, the piece becomes lost and ultimately sidetracks from its political purpose. If a play wants to be political, then the controversy is what surely needs to drive the story. Sutherland becomes trapped himself within the writing. Then again, perhaps that itself is a link to the title, yet one that is just too clever to be entertaining. The script might be a work of genius, but the story told is one that doesn’t reach a peak; it merely walks up a hill and comes straight back down, with nothing to prove of the journey but a pair of blistered feet.
Oh, but at least the fighting was quite good.
Review by Joseph Winer
A television journalist and a politician clash live on-air. What begins as a traditional interview slowly unfolds into a waking nightmare. A trap has been set: which side will walk into it?
A darkly comic, dystopian glimpse of Britain’s near future: experienced entirely in palindromic form. Written by the award-winning writer and Standby For Tape Back-Up and BBC Radio Four star Ross Sutherland.
Directed by Rob Watt (Standby For Tape Back-Up). Starring Simon Hepworth as Sir David Bradley and Zara Plessard as Amanda Barkham MP. Original music by Jeremy Warmsley (Summer Camp).
This production contains scenes of a violent nature.
Commissioned by Shoreditch Town Hall. Developed with the support of Shoreditch Town Hall, Metal Peterborough, Unity Theatre Liverpool and Arts Council England.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: PARTY TRAP
PRESENTED BY SHOW AND TELL
Tue 13th September – Sat 1st October 2016, 8pm
Running Time: 70 min