views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Wild Party
The Hope Theatre
12th January 2017

★★★☆☆

Anna Clarke and Joey Akubeze

Photography © Helen Maybanks

What passed for full on debauchery previously doesn't even merit a disapproving tut or frown these days. Mind you, we are the city that brought you Soho. We're hedonistic, time-strapped and always searching for instant gratification. And yet we haven't got anything on the 1920s, a period which could make a modern-day Londoner blush. The events that transpire in this adaptation of Joseph Moncure March's classic poem certainly live up to the name The Wild Party.

Two people on their own do not a party make, with Anna Clarke and Joey Akubeze therefore having to play a vast number of characters between them. There's an unfortunate lack of clarity each time they move between their many roles and you could certainly take a view that this adds to the usual confusing blur that defines a good shindig, however it does also make it difficult to keep up. There are some points where we don't feel totally engaged because we're struggling to understand who we're looking at. Many partygoers pass us by, which is a shame, but there's no mistaking protagonist Queenie (Clarke), her long-term abusive lover Burr (Abukeze) and her would-be replacement for him, Black (Abukeze).

Although Akubeze and Clarke frequently exchange loaded smirks, their chemistry is disappointingly limited. By contrast, when Clarke locks eyes with the audience, there's a wonderfully electrifying atmosphere. She saunters around the stage, her gaze seemingly lingering on each and every one of us for a fraction too long for it to be coincidental, making for a thoroughly intimate performance that leaves us individually breathless and giddy. It seems strange that she manages to enthral everyone in the room and yet can't create the same magnetism with her co-star - there's just nothing between them. Akubeze holds his own when in the spotlight, making it just seem like an unfortunate casting decision. The pair can both act, just not against each other romantically.

What does work well is the use of "modern" pop songs. Whilst the poem has previously been adapted into a musical, that music is ignored in favour of starting again with the source text and weaving in some instantly recognisable pop. Britney Spears and Bon Jovi aren't exactly cutting edge, nonetheless I really enjoyed the sultry, jazzy adaptations of such melodies. Anyone from my generation of 30-somethings will find the music in this production to be somewhat of a guilty pleasure. These arrangements fit the vaudeville style of of the story and its period beautifully. Top hats, tails and flapper dresses all also contribute to the finish, however costume and set designer Minglu Wang gives us a very minimalistic set, with not much more than a bathtub masquerading as a table. The focus is very much on the two actors.

Fruit is bitten, thrown and crushed - mangled flesh glistens in Will Alder's dim lights with a hypnotically visceral quality. Whilst there are obvious allusions of forbidden fruit as Clarke picks up and crunches an apple, it's the mashed up peaches and bananas that make our breath catch. For all this piece's flaws, there are some clever touches by director Rafaella Marcus, who ably captures the hedonism of the party as well as the the inherent danger always bubbling over.

The Wild Party is a complex, heady and debauched 70 minutes. Some of it may fade quickly, but it's worth inviting yourself along to hear Clarke and Akubeze's sultry musical stylings alone. Trust us, you're going want to take a sip from their devil's cup.

The Wild Party opened on 10th January and runs until 28th January 2017 at the Hope Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)



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