In an unspecified location, a group of society’s elite mix and mingle discussing everything and nothing. There are drinks and canapés, chit-chat and loose lips. Beneath the surface, however, a creeping tension encroaches upon their exclusive world. There is trouble at the gates and anarchy threatens their very existence.
Pinter’s rarely performed Party Time is brought to life by the sixth form students from Magdalen College School in a valiant and gutsy production. It was always going to be tough for youngsters to perform Pinter successfully and to their credit there are some stand-out performances. Frazer Hembrow is utterly believable, as is Sophia Glatz. Both portray characters the audience can relate to instantly, with a depth of characterisation that has clearly been the result of a great deal of research and development on their part. Similarly, Cam Mowat’s bluff aggression is seethingly played in a very controlled performance. For the majority of the cast, however, there remained the problem of young actors playing older, more worldly characters in a complex social context. As a result, you were left with the sense that they were trying to keep their heads above water in a text that was simply beyond their experience.
This production is well staged, with scene changes demarcated by an ingenious use of 50s music. As the show progressed - and the tension grew - these changeovers became more frenetic and chaotic as the very social fabric of the party began to come apart at the seams. This descent into disorder and disarray culminated in the entrance of Jimmy, played with absolute commitment by Conrad Palejowski, bringing the production to an intense end. This intensity and abruptness brought with it its own problems, however. Pinter’s text is a complicated one and this production did not make any noticeable allowances for audience members unfamiliar with the work. At its conclusion, there was a palpable sense among some of the audience that they had been left simply baffled by what they had seen. Extensive notes from the director could be found in the programme but, in order for the uninitiated to make sense of the drama unfolding before them, they should have been read before the production itself took place. This is where the staging sadly ran the risk of ignoring its audience. This play ‘examines bourgeois complicity in governmental barbarity’, but this would be far from obvious to the casual viewer from MCS’s production. A difficult script, perhaps best-suited to more experienced actors, this remains one for the Pinter purists.