The Wild Party

Theatre, Drama
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The Wild Party
© Scott Rylander

New musical theatre house The Other Palace opens with this weird, dark tale of '20s excess

Showgirl Queenie and vaudevillian clown Burrs live together. They hate each other. He can’t live without her. Their life is a toxic blur of faded stars and hangers-on, with sex and violence surging at the edges. It’s the 1920s. They throw a final, blowout party.

Adapted from Joseph McClure March’s narrative verse poem of 1927, this show – book by Michael John LaChiusa and George Wolfe, with LaChiusa also providing the cynicism-dipped songs – originally premiered off-Broadway in 2000, with Toni Collette as Queenie. Here, musical theatre legend Frances Ruffelle takes the role.

'The Wild Party' is making its UK debut in a production heralding the launch of the re-branded St James Theatre as The Other Palace – a home for musical theatre in all of its forms, backed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and under Paul Taylor-Mills’ artistic directorship.

As a statement of intent, 'The Wild Party' is an intriguing one. It's fiercely, viciously dark and lacks any real plot. This is not a mainstream musical; it's not an easy sell to your casual punter hankering after a catchy tune. It's the kind of show you stage when you want to say: 'we're going to be mixing things up’.

Like the live jazz throbbing away in the background, the show works like an extended riff – on a theme of doom-laden debauchery. Director Drew McOnie keeps things breathless from the start. His choreography never lets up, as a parade of characters who are busily ruining their lives spin across the stage like broken puppets. They’re archetypes of an age. It's a rush of sound and high-impact lighting, heavily indebted to 'Chicago'. A makeup-caked Ruffelle is a woman fleeing her fading youth in gin and drugs. Her boozy, bawdy duets with best frenemy, Kate (a scene-stealing Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) are a highlight. There’s also strong work from Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynea as ‘brothers’ Oscar and Phil. This is a show full of people with secrets.

But ‘The Wild Party’ is also a strange, uncomfortable thing. Its scenes of domestic violence and attempted assault sit uneasily with the ‘big-number’ approach to the songs and staging. The flicks into broad humour are often whiplashing. There’s a ton of energy pouring out of this production, but somehow it never feels as feverishly grotesque as the world of this show demands.

By: Tom Wicker

Posted:

Event website: http://www.theotherpalace.co.uk/theatre/wild-party
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LiveReviews|4
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Julia H

Truly enjoyed this - got a great deal on a last minute ticket. It was a great fun show with an incredible cast.

nicknickn
Tastemaker

This show has a lot of good things going for it. The ensemble are fantastic, the songs are good, the comedy songs are very funny. The dancing and choreography are fast and good, the characters are interesting and flawed. 

For me, the music is too loud for the size of the theatre, it took me about three songs for my hearing to adjust enough to understand the lyrics. This is a shame because the lyrics that I did hear were acerbic and funny. The ending is a bit of an anti-climax, if ever a show needs an encore routine, this is one. This is such a disappointment because so much of the rest of the show is truly wonderful.

Frances Ruffelle and John Owen-Jones have beautiful emotive voices. Steven Serlin and Sebastien Torkia are a funny comedy double act. Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynea are excellent at joining the show together. The dancing was uniformly outstanding. I feel bad for not mentioning others, there are so many great performances.

It truly was a wild party, it was an exhilarating rollercoaster ride, and like all the best parties although I may have left with some regrets, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

John C
tastemaker

The music is played rather loud ,which just about drowns the vocalists, who then respond by bellowing over the  over the band. The music is unmemorable, most of the lyrics are lost in the noise.

Difficult to judge if the material has any quality, personally I found it all totally unbearable.  I'm sure the cast are all very talented, but they certainly don't have an opportunity to demonstrate it. 

Alan C

Not to my taste, left at half time. The most uncomfortable theatre I have ever sat in.