I couldn’t help noticing in the most recent round of pantomimes how contemporary chart music has been used like never before (occasionally, when the casting allows, sung by the very performer(s) who made the song in question famous in the first place) to engage its audiences, some of whom may not necessarily attend the theatre for anything else, while at the same time furthering the narrative thanks to the song’s content. This production of The Wild Party seems to take its cue from that approach, seamlessly inserting songs made popular by the likes of Bon Jovi and Carly Rae Jepsen into the epic ‘The Wild Party’ poem by Joseph Moncure March, first published in 1928.
The interwar hedonism depicted has elements of excess and decadence found in F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby – as well as its various adaptations. This production could, quite conceivably, work with just one performer. The lines, after all, comprise a poem, albeit a very long one, and the right sort of performer with the energy and nuances required to take on such a headstrong piece could make a go of it. Here, though, there are two performers, Joey Akubeze and Anna Clarke, who between them portray sixteen characters, one way or another. Let’s just say they like their fruit and their broken records, and with two actors at the helm, there’s double the fun, double the euphoria – and, when the time comes, double the despair.
There’s excellent rapport established with the audience almost immediately, particularly with repeated eye contact. Performed in the round, there are inevitably occasions when sightlines from any given audience angle aren’t exactly ideal. For the most part, the performance space is used well. A bed would have been better rather than using the floor to lie down on – anyone not sat in the front row has a bit of a struggle to see what’s happening (if anything). But if that’s the extent of my gripes with the show, it’s an indication of how equally delightful and intense this play with songs is.
The very first time I read ‘The Wild Party’, I was on the Tube. In those days, the Circle Line actually ran as a circular service, and the thought crossed my mind that I could go the ‘wrong’ way round and finish the poem in one sitting before getting to where I was going. I don’t think I did in the end, but either way (as it were), I’m thrilled that this show is infinitely better paced, and infinitely more enjoyable, than it was when I hurtled my way through all those rhymes and succinct expressions.
This theatrical adaptation may, I suspect, end all too abruptly for anyone without any previous exposure. But this is undoubtedly a faithful rendering of March’s work, and the actors allow the poem to breathe, not always acting out every single line. No prior knowledge of the poem is required, as the play brings the poem to life so convincingly and vividly. This wholly dynamic and scintillating production, over all too soon, is another triumph for the Hope Theatre, holding true to the old adage that success breeds success. This show is one to see: as David Cameron said to Jeremy Corbyn in a very different context, “For heaven’s sake man, go!”
Review by Chris Omaweng
Grimy Jazz Age masterpiece THE WILD PARTY is the lust-fuelled story of an affair between two cabaret stars, and the final, fatal party they throw in their seedy Hollywood apartment.
Queenie dances twice a night in the vaudeville, and Burrs is the clown who goes on after her act. In the apartment they share Queenie toys dangerously with Burrs affections, but when they throw a party they drag everyone into their ugly games. Brothers Phil and Oscar play the piano while Jack eyes both of them from the corner, and Queenie’s best pal Kate arrives late with a handsome new man on her arm.
Brought to life by just two actors, the syncopated rhythms and rhymes of Joseph Moncure March’s classic poem weave in and out of live music, songs and dancing in this new production that’s served soused in gin, jazz and sex.
“The Wild Party? … It’s the book that made me want to be a writer” – William Burroughs
Mingled Yarn Theatre return to The Hope Theatre following 2015’s the window/blank pages (“searing account of crushed dreams and lost love” – The Stage) with a lascivious tale of the Roaring Twenties. Grab a stiff drink and join the party!
company: JOEY AKUBEZE & ANNA CLARKE
director: RAFAELLA MARCUS
producer: DAVID RALF
set & costume designer: MINGLU WANG
lighting & sound designer: WILL ALDER
stage manager: HARRISON BRODIE
casting: GABRIELLA SHIMELD-FENN
the wild party
10 – 28 Jan 2017