Party Game

“What did you expect? This is immersive theatre.” One of the performers said, shattering the fourth wall in an unscripted moment about halfway through this 90-minute mixture of songs, dancing and quirky party games. It is a bum note hit reflexively when a request for an audience member to remove an item of clothing is met with awkward resistance, but it is smoothly recovered from by all involved. It is in fact the smoothness with which this situation is dealt with that speaks to the main issue with the occasionally brilliant Party Game. For theatre to really feel immersive it must have a choose-your-own-adventure quality, ideally creating a sense of recklessness and genuine tension for the actors to play with. We are given multiple opportunities to choose our paths in Party Game, but very little effort is made to hide the fact they all lead to the same conclusion.

Party Game is interesting to watch but to answer the performer’s question from earlier, one expects something more interesting to do.

Party Game, the hotly-anticipated new production from bluemouth inc. and Necessary Angel, is supposedly interactive from the opening moments. The audience are arriving for a surprise party and are invited to mill amongst other guests and the performers before the show begins. Once it starts, it does so inauspiciously, with audience members recruited to put up bunting, learn a song to sing, sweep the floor and arrange the chairs. At this point the stage is set for a very exciting experience where we feel involved in creating something as a collective. It is thoroughly disappointing then when we spend the next hour watching, admittedly excellent, modern dance and are expected to contribute, but are never rewarded with narrative consequence. Whilst it couldn’t be expected of Party Game to build its entire narrative out of audience suggestions like a long-form improv, once the illusion of participation is shattered the emotional notes ring hollow.

As a narrative collection of dances Party Game is considerably more impressive than it is as a work of participatory theatre. All four performers are dedicated, talented and individually impressive. In particular, Susanna Hood shines as the most welcoming of the four party hosts, ushering audience members around the room and appearing constantly warm and affable. Stephen O’Connell and Dan Wild are fascinating dancers to watch and are very exaggeratedly expressive in a way that is simultaneously very watchable and perhaps a little ill-suiting to the naturalistic environment created by the staging. Thanks in part to the performances and in part to the lack of satisfying audience immersion, Party Game almost seems as though it would be more emotionally effective as a pure physical theatre piece.

It is an ultimately frustrating experience when such an aesthetically pleasing work doesn’t prove as satisfying as it first appears. Patrick Lavender’s lighting design and Richard Windeyer’s sound work is beautiful and together with the performers they cultivate a rich and delightful atmosphere for the emotion of the show to operate within. However, this show features entirely inconsequential audience interaction and nothing terribly exciting for people to do in between sporadic bouts of dancing. Party Game is interesting to watch but to answer the performer’s question from earlier, one expects something more interesting to do. After all, this is immersive theatre.

Reviews by Charlie Ralph

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The Blurb

You are cordially invited to a surprise party. With the guidance of your host and help from the other guests, you get ready for the big surprise – but when it arrives, it’s clear no amount of planning can prepare you for what lies ahead. Accompanied by dance, theatre and music, no two audience experiences are the same in this heartrending exploration of loss and joyful celebration of life. By the creators of Dance Marathon, Party Game is an extraordinary immersive theatrical performance about embracing the unknown.