Last Updated on 6th July 2017
I Went To A Fabulous Party
King’s Head Theatre, Islington
19 June 2015
The King’s Head has a notable tradition in supporting contemporary drama on gay themes, but sadly as things stand this new 65-minute play by And Davies does not add very many leaves to those laurels. It is not by any means without potential and with a longish run ahead in Edinburgh in August there is scope for development and refinement of both the text and the depth and authenticity of the acting. The critical spirit of the review that follows is therefore intended constructively towards that end rather than as a simple repudiation of the evident hard work undertaken by cast and creative team.
The theatre is arranged in traverse with audience on three sides of a living room, furnished with seating set at different levels, and completed with a coffee table, and a table carrying a laptop that is set to play a large role in the action. A door leads off to a kitchen. Preparations are under way for a party led by host Matt (Piers Hunt) who tries to break down the ‘fourth wall’ further by engaging in banter with the audience as he cleans the apartment. He is joined by his husband Lee (Mark Ota), who is suffering from flu, and, as the evening progresses, from a destabilizing cocktail of alcohol and flu remedies. First guest to arrive is Chris (Gregory A Smith), apparently prudish and wrapped up in mock-horror, self-protective, queenly campery. However, behind the scenes he still has strong, unreciprocated feelings for Lee. A potential threat to domestic harmony enters in the form of Darren (Luke Kelly), a work colleague of Matt: handsome and gym-fit, the question is how close is he to Matt, and why precisely has he been invited to this party? Next to arrive is Tom (Stephen Oswald), a daddy bear much older than the rest of the friends, and mostly monosyllabic at the start in recognition that he has recently been dumped by his partner. A couple complete the company, though crucially they arrive separately: Paul (Ahd Tamimi) is a gym-bunny and part-time stripper – someone very much in love with his own image; and Josh, (Carlton Venn) is an inexperienced, shy twink, who has just met Paul at the gym.
As the evening develops a great deal of alcohol is consumed which loosens tongues and clothing. Inhibitions are shed, truths often unwelcome and uncomfortable are shared, and there is a great deal of nudity that was certainly pleasing to the audience’s collective eye. Relationships come under strain, dignity is lost in some fairly predictable ways and there are hints of resolutions to old rifts and shaping of new connections. There are some good lines and jokes along the way but judging from the audience’s reactions, not nearly as many as the actors and author believe to be there. At present, unfortunately, it does not emerge as more than the sum of its parts.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, there is an uncertainty over genre. It could have been simply a ribald romp of a gloriously two-dimensional kind – as for example was shown successfully in Bathhouse: the Musical! recently produced at Above the Stag in Vauxhall. In that kind of work you can get away with simple gay stereotypes, poking fun at and through and around them with crude humour as much as delicate wit. However, this play purports to do more: a number of serious themes are ventured at different points – the contemporary narcissism of gym routines, the destructive superficiality of dating apps, and the self-deceptions and avoidance of uncomfortable truths about individual identity under the collective safety blanket of gay hedonism. Towards the end the suggestion is even made that coming-out to yourself is actually more difficult these days than coming-out in society. All these themes are individually important but none of them is really followed through to any interesting or fully-formed conclusion. It is as if the play is aspiring to be an updated version of My Night with Reg, revived so memorably at the Donmar in recent months, but cannot complete the trajectory.
The main explanation for this is that unlike that notable work of the 1980s the writing does not build and reveal character incrementally through nuanced dialogue but simply presents the seven individuals as fixed gay stereotypes with functions to perform that do not develop through the action. They are still puppets not characters with developing lives of their own. The only part-exception to this is young Josh, who does experience a learning curve from gaucheness through to self-confidence. It is no accident that Carlton Venn’s acting is much the most memorable of the evening – simply because he has a story to tell, and makes the most of the material he is given. There is a variety of conflicting emotions on display here mediated through plausible dialogue that allow us to see the pattern of his psychology in detail and chart its growth. Unfortunately this does not apply elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with the technical side of the production – experienced director Dan Phillips ensures the movement is fluid, and natural and creates the impression that the space is bigger than it is, something hard to do with seven adults acting drunk in a confined space. A member of the audience joins the cast for a dancing sequence, and it passes off well without becoming an awkward ‘Dame Edna’ moment. The individual scenes are broken up with some stylized disco moments that punctuate the action effectively. No, the problems with this evening reside at present in uncertainty of both conception and execution.
My suggestions would either be to workshop this play further and enlarge it so that the other characters and serious themes are given more room to breathe and grow; or to simplify it into a farce and concentrate on working up the existing visual situations of humour and the verbal wit so that it becomes a vehicle for style alone. Both of these possibilities are honourable and plausible and interesting solutions whereas the present drama remains at almost every level unresolved.
I Went To A Fabulous Party Runs At The King’s Head Until 5 July 2015