The greatest danger in watching ‘Party’ is, of all things, whiplash. The one-liners that ricochet between the five main characters are so sharp and quick that it sometimes seems as if you’re watching a pinball machine. This is not political humour of the The Thick of It variety, though fans of that show will find plenty to enjoy here. Rather, although it mocks the vapidity of modern politics, it frequently rockets off into other topics, returning to the main plot just enough to keep the show moving briskly forward.
The play is based on the premise that four university students are trying to set up their own political party; the shambolic nature of their attempts at naming and branding this Party is matched only by their stupendous ignorance of anything even remotely connected to politics. They are joined by Duncan, who was invited because of the tremendous marketing opportunities provided by his father’s printer’s shop. He sits beside a small figure of a meerkat in which the party members keep their funds, and inadvertently or not spends much of the play sharing facial expressions with it: both look glassy-eyed and mildly overwhelmed.
Duncan shares neither their taste for politics nor their lack of nuance. In return, they feel a sort of scornful pity towards him. Their political views are comprised of platitudes that are frequently contradictory: they are certainly against terrorism, capitalism, and poor people, and they are definitely in favor of fair trade, democracy, and, well, poor people. These students desperately want to be heard, but they have nothing in particular to say.
Basden’s diversity of humor means that almost every moment feels fresh and surprising, even where you would think that the subject matter has already been wrung dry by other comedians. The fast-paced dialogue is suspended during a wonderfully bizarre piece involving the pouring of water into glasses, which is one of the most memorable parts of the play. The jokes are by turns caustic, ridiculous, and unexpectedly revealing. At one point Duncan kindly reassures Mel that her car does, in fact, have enough horsepower to kill a child. The highlight of a particularly chaotic section is when somebody wails, “It can’t be a mistake! It’s democracy!”
Given the comic timing and endurance required to carry a show based on such quick-fire dialogue (none of the characters even move very much), it is easy to see why most of the actors are also in the St Andrews Revue. Amanda Litherland as Mel dominates her side of the stage with outrage against sexism, non-fairtrade coffee, and, er, anything, really. Christy White-Spunner is very funny as Jared, the party’s pretentious heir apparent, while Oli Clayton provides a nice counterbalance as the more laid-back, but also grumpier, Jones. Shayna Layton as Phoebe played it completely straight, radiating sincerity without hamming it up, and was quietly perhaps the funniest one there. Joe Fleming manages to convey much of poor Duncan’s character simply by staring out at the audience and saying “Hm. …” Duncan has a lot of the funniest lines: when he explains that his tie is “Sort of … skeletons … having sex”, several people in my immediate vicinity nearly cried with laughter.
There is also a brief appearance by Sam Peach as “Short Coat”, who brings a few winking allusions to St Andrews – “I’ve booked the Adamson” – and offers his expertise as an IR student. He is resoundingly told to leave. (This is what happens to IR students at parties everywhere, of course.) This particular Party is no place for informed opinions. Whether real political parties are any different is, of course, a conclusion you are free to draw yourself. But you’ll leave ‘Party’ with a good feeling about the world: although its politics might be depressing, at least it can still produce bloody good comedy.
There are still a few tickets remaining for tonight's 8pm performance at the Byre theatre… don't miss out!
Photo courtesy of Jake Threadgould.