Writer: Joseph Moncure March
Director: Rafaella Marcus
Reviewer: Deborah Parry
Think of the most disappointing party you’ve ever been to – one that left you feeling fairly deflated; perhaps you bumped into an ex who looked great and their plus one was annoyingly attractive – maybe you got ridiculously drunk, was sick everywhere and just generally made a bit of an idiot of yourself or it might have merely been that you were bored out of your mind and couldn’t wait to escape. Well, rest assured that no matter how bad a time you had, however much you wish you could eradicate the memory of it from the recesses of your brain – reliving it would still be preferable to sitting through this disastrous mess of a theatrical production.
You may have heard of The Wild Party – it’s actually the title of two different musicals by two different composers; one production was performed on Broadway in 2000 and the other (perhaps more famous version) was performed off-Broadway in 1997 and starred Idina Menzel. Both pieces (unsurprisingly) were inspired by the same source material- a long narrative poem by early American screenwriter Joseph Moncure March in the 1920s. Instead of performing either of the aforementioned adaptations – Mangled Yarn Theatre company has gone back to the original text itself and brings us a staging of it- which is a more accurate way of describing it than suggesting it is a particularly inspiring re-imagining.
The main problem with reciting poetry on stage is that the medium doesn’t necessarily translate well as dialogue – and in this instance, so much is lost through the rapid pace that the text is spoken at and a lack of diction from the performers. There are many characters in the story, which centres around (you’ve guessed it) a wild party but the main focus is a passionate and dysfunctional relationship between two vaudeville performers Queenie and Burrs.
Instead of distributing lines among a cast of actors – Mangled Yard has made the decision to create a two-hander and it just doesn’t work. There are so many parts being portrayed but because the characterisations are so poor, it’s easy for us to become lost and it takes an inordinate amount of concentration to work out which person is speaking, at which point and to whom.
Pop songs are situated within the show at various moments, which have been well-selected (the lyrics fit), they are sung competently in a jazz style and prove to be highlights but are so spaced apart that they seem out-of-place stylistically. It is also confusing that, when The Wild Party has already been successfully adapted as two decent pieces with original scores, why one would even want to take the material down a jukebox musical route – arguably, what does it add?
Staging is visually interesting at times but ideas are introduced that don’t particularly push boundaries or communicate to us clearly their meaning – like the decision to have the performers eating fruit midway, which mostly makes them seem uncomfortable – rather than adding anything important or helping us understand the story better. It is also unintentionally amusing when the performers (who at this point are in rather skimpy attire) roll around on bananas, peaches and apples that have been crushed onto the floor – you can imagine what it looks like when it’s mushed onto the back of their lower halves.
Actors Anna Clarke and Joey Akubeze have an immense challenge in keeping us engaged throughout this epic poem and do a fair job but there is a lack of chemistry between them, they seem lost within the text at times and do not demonstrate enough depth of emotion to make us feel very much, which is a pity.
The Wild Party is not an easy piece to stage – even revivals of the tried and tested aforementioned musicals are scarce because of this. One cannot knock Mangled Yarn for attempting to do something new with the original poem but, sadly, this piece feels more like an hour-long hangover than anything to celebrate.
Runs until 28 January 2017 | Image: Helen Maybanks