The Wild Party, playing at the Other Palace Theatre, is a frustrating piece for me to review. There were many great things that I liked about it. The opening was enticing and we meet these intriguing characters. I willed myself to be swept up in the drunken ride, but the components didn’t fit together quite right for me and I left feeling fairly underwhelmed.
This show is exactly what it says on the tin. A Wild Party. It is set during the roaring 20s, a time of sexual promiscuity, moral ambiguity and material excess. Queenie (Frances Ruffelle) and Burrs (John Owen Johns), two lovers, both Vaudeville performers, throw an extravagant party in a pitiful attempt to save their toxic relationship. The party kicks off with a loud bang and the music swings and the gin flows with full force. Their guests are larger than life with a lust for infidelity and scandal which of course results in drama galore. In the early hours of the morning, the guests begin to sober up and the party descends to a bitter finale.
The Choreographer and also Director, Drew McOnie, does an impressive job of using bold and sensual movement to create the atmosphere of a boozy party. I felt in some moments as if I was able to watch the party unfold through the same mystic lens as the intoxicated guests. The cast was also top class, a standout for me Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, who plays Queenie’s old friend and foe Kate. Her voice is smoky but also as smooth as Irish Cream Liqueur. Her rendition of ‘Black Is A Moocher’ was delicious and clearly heartfelt. The jazz score was also charming and had its mix of enjoyable rhythms and sensual melodies.
However the show’s creativity verged on chaotic; it was dazzling but equally dizzying. It is saturated with the good things I typically look for in a musical: a stellar cast; lively choreography; edgy staging and visuals; and exciting music. But the elements didn’t quite blend together right and felt too busy and frenzied. I couldn’t fully engage with the plot either. It is quite daring for a whole show to take place at a party. Typically the party would consume a single scene often used as a well timed plot device. However fixing a show in the one setting means that you are only exposed to limited shades of the various characters. As diverse and eclectic as the guests were, they were so morally reprehensible for the most part and those who I wouldn’t dare to be around in reality, that experience felt wearisome very quickly.
The theme of the missed American Dream seemed to seep its way yet again into another musical. In this instance we meet these Jewish producers who make the choice to become Jewless Jews in their pursuit of fame on Broadway. Their prescence provided some much needed comic relief and made me reflect on how toxic the combination of sex, alcohol and wild ambitions can be. The Dream also grips the heart of a fourteen year old guest who longs to be a blonde and be a part of the Vaudeville scene. Her story was particularly harrowing for me to witness and made me question in the company of people who are stupid drunk, the degree to which unchallenged sexual assault prevailed within these wild parties.
Despite my mixed views on the show, I would still recommend it as I will always be an advocate of seeing a variety of shows and this show is certainly different. However you won’t catch me watching it again.