Party Games! | National Tour | Review

Party Games!

Connaught Theatre, Worthing

Written by Michael McManus

Director: Joanna Read

In conjunction with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Wednesday 12 June – Saturday 15 June

Amidst all the usual noise and mayhem accompanying a forthcoming election, I had been looking forward to a bit of light relief with the arrival of this ‘hilariously acerbic’ offering from Michael McManus. Such was the description in the press releases. Michael McManus has written several plays to date, his first in 2018, following a lengthy career in high level politics and journalism.

As a Conservative, I should add. It is not surprising then, that his plays have all been politically based.
The play was written before the date of the General Election was announced, however the timing appeared to be just right for it to be performed when fever is high, just weeks before the Big Day. Or was it? Those who have simply turned off from those interminable catch phrases and ‘key messages’, maybe preferred to stay at home and catch up on Countryfile or Antiques Roadshow rather than take a chance on being ‘entertained’ by yet another political satire. Sadly, on this occasion it appeared that the former option won out, as numbers were not great on opening night in Worthing.

“Party Games’ could have – should have – been a real opportunity to give audiences a new comic treat, a chance to laugh out loud at the absurdity of political shenanigans, but instead we were delivered a desperately thin plot, which seemed to be cobbled together from a series of easily recalled political gaffes, based on stereotypes and caricatures from the fairly recent past. Set in 2026, with John Waggner (Matthew Cottle) as the new leader of the centrist One Nation Party, albeit with a hung parliament, the play attempts to create a bickering, shouty atmosphere where the PM – portrayed as a timidly petulant, upper class, Latin spouting twit – simply looks totally bewildered much of the time. Oh, and his main skill is sounding off his silly farting toy – when he’s not actually farting himself, that is. Matthew Cottle is a fine actor with a distinguished body of work behind him, both in TV and theatre, and I really thought he deserved better than this.

The script had clearly been updated at the last minute to include references to Nigel Farage’s Clacton campaign; the PM coming in out of the rain and remarked upon as being ‘very Rishi Sunak’, and a remark about ‘missing D- Day again’, but – please! – have we not had enough of the ‘lettuce’ jokes?

Natalie Dunne, as the PM’s wife Anne, was clearly based on Carrie Johnson, and well played as being manipulative and bossy, and with an intelligence totally at the other end of the scale from her husband’s. ‘Seth’, (Ryan Early) the arrogant, scheming Chief of Staff, was obviously meant to be a Dominic Cummings reinvention, with his grey zip up jacket and backpack, but it was all so contrived, I’m afraid. Shove in the camp Chief Whip (William Oxburgh) popping in every now and then with his pet tarantula (hello, Gavin Williamson?) and you have almost a complete set.
I have to say that the set and the lighting were terrific, doing the iconic Connaught Theatre proud, as did the great cast, who saved the play from descending into a quagmire of clichés. Erica Tavares-Kouassi took over the role of Lisa, and proved to be faultless, and Krissi Bohn as ‘CAN-dice’ (!) was just great.

Unfortunately, the laughs were thin on the ground, and the audience reflected this, with just faint titters here and there, only slightly enthusiastic at the mention of Diane Abbott being Acting Deputy Leader. But that was it. I’m afraid after the PM bumbling on when asked about his thoughts on Europe, and hearing his reply: ‘Oh, isn’t that to the east, and a bit south?” is when I switched off.

‘The Thick of It’ it wasn’t, neither was it anywhere near ‘Yes Minister’. I’m afraid it was more of a puerile hodge podge than political satire. Such a shame. With an excellent cast, this play had so much potential, unfortunately it just did not deliver.

2 hours including 20 minute interval. Touring

Reviewed by Gill Ranson