Pros: A solid hour of unadulterated comedy.
Cons: This company has so much more to give.
In a hidden corner, somewhere behind the Caledonian Road sits Pleasance Edinburgh’s little sister, aptly named Pleasance Islington. It is decidedly less buzzy in atmosphere and the staff are altogether grumpier than their Scottish counterparts, but it knows it has a reputation to uphold: a reputation for comedy. Where better to slot in Tom Basden’s Fringe First Award winning play Party! a witty and fast-paced comedy about four misfit idealists at the inception of their own political party?
Like a lot of Basden’s work, such as his notable television credits The Wrong Mans and Fresh Meat, it is less about the situation or the politics, and more about the people and how those people are dealing with it. Party! is so firmly rooted in character; dialogue driven jokes, dynamics, relationships and stand points that they become instantly recognisable caricatures. It is a script overtly intended for comedians; the nuances are to be found in the layer after layer of jokes and not in any multiple dimensions of character. In its original form Basden’s cast was formed largely of his Cambridge Footlights turned professional comedian pals Tim Key and Jonnny Sweet, joined by the equally impressive Josie Long. In this, Bridge Arts’ version, those comedians are replaced with actors who have, I wholeheartedly believe, given themselves quite the challenge, but do they pull it off?
Well…yes and no. The cast (Tom Scurr, Elizabeth Hope, Florence Hapgood, Luke de Belder, George Vafakis and Steve Hodgetts) nail the characterisations as the tokens they are; the feminist, the nerd, the damn right dumb. Their comic timing is impeccable with pause impregnated with jokes and facial expressions that facilitate as much comedy as the words themselves. There is a huge amount of skill that goes into making comedy look simplistically surface and the Bridge Arts cast very nearly hit the nail on the head, but not quite. I can’t help but think that we aren’t seeing all of what their talent has to offer or, more accurately, that the script doesn’t play to the strengths of those actors.
Similarly, the direction and set is more lacklustre than previous Bridge Arts productions. Again, not through lack of skill, but rather, through the opportunities of the script. Party! is situational and almost televisual in its narrative. It is about a group of displaced students who seek to start a political party in one of their mother’s sheds. Bridge Arts give us precisely that, four students in a shed. Their set is dotted with a disused, aging high chair, tools, dust and paint pots. It does exactly what it says on the tin but not much more besides.
Does it need any more besides? Not really, it is a solid hour of simple, unadulterated comedy. We are whisked through it, laughing all the way. I just think that this company has more than that, more to give and more to show.
Author: Tom Basden
Director: Zach James
Producer: Bridge Arts
Booking Until: 13/03/2016
Box Office: 02076091800
Booking Link: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/party/performances