Pros: A great play with an outstanding performance from the hysterically funny Ben Kavanagh.
Cons: Not all characters are equally memorable and fully developed.
Above The Stag is an important theatre for London. They provide top-quality performances of LGBT subject matter, and their current production is no exception. Their latest offering is Party, a side-splittingly funny (and extremely revelatory) show about a group of 20-30 year old gay men who gather in a flat to play a revealing card game. Some are life-long friends, some appear to be staunch frenemies, and there are a couple of young men entering into their first encounters with the gay male community in the mix.
It’s a great combination of characters, and as they start playing the game (a strange but easy to understand interpretation of ‘truth or dare’) more and more inhibitions, secrets and clothes are shed until the men are fully exposed – both figuratively and extremely literally. If you’re not into nudity, this show is not for you. If you like nudity, this is definitely your jam. It should also be mentioned there is very adult subject matter here.
It’s a very good production – and possibly one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. The writing is sharp, clever and absolutely hilarious. The comedic timing is equally outstanding – and no one delivers it harder and better than the wonderful Ben Kavanagh as dry, sarcastic, yet tremendously flamboyant priest Ray. His performance in this piece is worth the admission fee alone – the audience were in constant stitches from his outstanding one-liners, and his delivery is stunning.
The acting is good across the board – there’s some occasional stunted delivery, but it’s otherwise smooth – and all the actors are well cast. Unfortunately, not all of the characters are as fully developed as others, so a few sink into the background or blend into each other. Also, given the tenseness of some of the interactions, particularly between Ray and James, it would be interesting to see more of the backstories. At the moment, however, the play has a perfect length for the subject matter, and I struggle to see what you’d cut to be able to introduce that.
There could be a mistake in thinking, with the hilarity of the show, that it’s lacking in depth – but truthfully, it isn’t. The play is a celebration of gay male culture, but it’s also an important look at gay culture throughout the ages. There’s references a-plenty in here to icons of LGBT people, crucial points in the LGBT movement and it is really lovely to see the older members of the group passing on this information to their younger friends. It displays a sense of communal, and almost tribal, educating of younger people as they enter the fold of their adult community.
It’s also important to have the stories that the actors tell in some of the deeper ‘truth’ portions of the show. Alienation as a part of growing up gay forms a large part of some very moving stories, and it is testament to the excellent writing and acting in this show that the actors are able to go from moments that are hysterically funny to ones which demand that a silence descends over the audience. Party makes us remember why it is that LGBT culture and theatre are so necessary, even in what we believe to be a more modern and accepting time period than times in which some of the stories take place.
An introduction to the piece informed the audience that on the same night that we saw this show in London, it also premiered in Orlando – not too far from the Pulse nightclub, where 49 LGBT people lost their lives in a hate-fuelled shooting. It’s a sobering reminder that this is important. This show is important. Being able to display and celebrate culture is important – and this show really is a glorious celebration. Superb cast, strong writing, good delivery – and such a lovely affirmation of friendship – make for a really excellent and memorable evening.
Author: David Dillon
Director: Gene David Kirk
Producer: Peter Bull
Booking Link: http://www.abovethestag.com/whatson/party/
Booking Until: 30 October 2016