By Adele Cooke
Given the current political climate, with the backdrop of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump taking centre stage in international politics, it seems fitting to stage a play focused on political parties. Questioning what forms the basis of our political structure, Tom Basden’s witty and humorous play, Party encourages its audience to question democracy, party manifestos, foreign policy, and of course, lemon drizzle cake.
Set in a garden shed and narrated by a group of idealist university students, the play successfully manages to make current affairs comic and leave its audience smiling. As Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin affirms, ‘right now politics is quite upsetting’. Yet this play marks a clear difference with its light comedy and playful content. Many sections adopt a tongue-in cheek tone, ‘my favourite bit is the Russian royal family’ remarks Ambika Mod, and Tyzack-Carlin jokes ‘this is Trump’s cabinet right now’. It is clear to see why choosing this play was simple for director Kate Lipson. After watching its critically-acclaimed debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009, it was a play Lipson said ‘just stuck with me’, as she recounts ‘being in hysterics the whole way through’. Going on to gain further success at The Arts Theatre London in 2010, and described by Brian Logan of The Guardian as ‘an idiosyncratic and highly enjoyable piece’ it is clear Basden’s fresh approach to politics is different from anything staged before in Durham.
The show has enjoyed a relatively short rehearsal period, as Lipson describes: ‘we cast in the first week… our first or second rehearsal was last Wednesday… it’s a quick turnaround.’ The cast clearly like to keep busy, ‘everyone’s had quite a lot of other plays’ both for Pitch Productions and other theatre companies, meaning their experience is clearly tangible.
This may be one of the reasons there is such a strong group dynamic. ‘We’re all great friends’, Mod declares. Claire Forster also confirms this longstanding connection, stating, ‘Andrew (Shires) and I have been in plays since first year.’ It is nice to see this friendship in performance more recently as Mod highlights ‘in my last play I directed Bróccán’ in Mojo by Jez Butterworth, staged just last month. This bond is clearly apparent, as the group bounces off each other not only in conversation but also in character. Rehearsals were interspersed with laughter, ‘we laugh a lot’ Shires confirms. Despite having no greater plans to tour with this play, the group will no doubt retain their friendly repartee much further than on the stage at St John’s College this Friday and Saturday.
Certainly it is clear how the play stands out from the norm. It is refreshing to partner humour with the Home Secretary and comedy with current affairs. Who knows if this cast can make Durham great again, but they certainly know how to bring life and soul to the political party.
‘Party’ will be showing in the Wallis Room of St John’s College from Friday, the 18th of November at 19:30 and with two performances on Saturday, the 19th of November. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Samuel Kirkman