Pros: Talented cast of actors including an impressively intense Steve Mace as Murdoch, who showed the dangerous consequences of despair and isolation in the modern world.
Cons: Genre-confused script that was in constant push and pull between its two halves; left me a bit exasperated.
Toilet Party really isn’t much of a title, but it makes a lot more sense when you arrive at the venue. Entering The Courtyard is akin to getting past the rope of an underground nightclub; inside it is dark and offers lots of corners and corridors in which to commit sins (I checked my Hotmail). Aesthetically it’s functional and refreshingly unaffected for an area that might be classed as Shoreditch. I didn’t see reconstituted slate, glass bricks or copper work surfaces anywhere thank goodness, just normal walls and well lit toilets. The theatre space upstairs is nice and roomy, not a bad seat in the house for this production – ‘restricted view’ tickets should surely be a chargeable offense in 2015?
Fortunately this time round we all had full eyes on the set, which I loved for its realistic and daringly grubby design. It was the epitome of the run down toilet you could see in any neglected park across the UK. Scenes such as one where a prostitute gets in a rough-up with a client, or where friends struck up a joint together worked well because they belonged so integrally to the environment created through the design and direction.
Toilet Party centres its plot around several youths who spend a lot of their time hanging around this dilapidated toilet, chatting about life, smoking, drinking and fighting. A divide exists between them that is superficially political, but in essence is more a standard separation of personalities and people. The characters were well drawn and faithfully inhabited by a talented cast. Two of the toilet-lurking crowd, Lucien and Seb (played by Reece Miller and Ben Boskovic), presented a truly sincere and natural relationship of friendship that I enjoyed watching.
Performances were strong across the board and if word count allowed I’d wax lyrical about them all. On the downside I did feel a lack of context for the characters’ lives in the script; jobs, homes, hobbies, pets, likes, dislikes, and histories didn’t surface at all. Yes, I grant this may have been something to do with the other aspect of the narrative that explored ideas of existence through supernatural happenings and the alluring ‘draw’ of the toilet; but this leads me onto my con (spoiler alert).
Some way into the first half the ghost of Marlene Dietrich appears. Later on she is joined by another deceased German from the pages of history. From that point onwards the real-life narrative of the young friends’ struggle with identity runs alongside a bizarre plotline concerning supernatural squatting rights over the toilet. To my mind the two strands didn’t fit, and disrupted the play in a way that wasn’t provocative because there was no conflict; and neither did those particular ghosts create a meaningful parallel to the ‘living’ individuals on stage. I just think it was an odd choice, to locate the glamourous ghost, and accompanying light effects, in that rightfully grubby public setting. The surreal drama, histrionics, and fantastical elements weren’t in proportion to the public toilet – hence my sense of imbalance. The set was so fantastic in its naturalism I think it would have been stronger to pursue the real characters who had heart. So if you get your ticket to Toilet Party you might enjoy the lightshow, but I personally preferred the casual chat on the bench.
Writer: C. Pike
Director: Florence Bell
Producer: Gennifer Becouarn & Florence Bell
Company: Counter Productions
Set Design: Collette Creary-Myers and Clemence Craig
Booking Until: 21 June 2015
Box Office: 0844 477 1000
Booking Link: http://www.thecourtyard.org.uk/whatson/576/toilet-party