Event review: ‘Party’, by the Breakfast Cat Theatre Company, performed at the Oval Tavern


By - Friday 22nd July, 2016

Paul M. Ford has a proper laugh in a potting shed in a pub


Photo by Liz Singh, used with permission.

Deep in suburbia, a new political force is fomenting. Ready to sweep away the established power blocs with its bold new approach and deeply held beliefs and convictions. Once they can work out what they actually are.

Tom Basden’s 2009 play, ‘Party,’ was produced and acted by the Breakfast Cat Theatre Company at the Oval Tavern, Oval Road, for two evenings only, Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th July. It is set in the garden shed (‘summer house!’) of Jared’s parents’ home. Jared and his three compadres, Mel, Phoebe and Jonesy, are preparing for power, but have only the loosest grasp of… well, anything. As we meet them, already gathered round a table amongst bags of compost, garden hoses and a Thomas the Tank Engine piggy-bank, their group is actually going through something of a crisis. But they bravely soldier on, discussing the finer points of their developing foreign policy.

“China. Are we in favour of it?” becomes a heated discussion that attempts to balance Chinese cuisine against that country’s human rights record. (“Too glutinous” states militant Mel in one comment, presumably but not definitively about the cuisine.) We discover that the group doesn’t have a name; it doesn’t have a leader; it doesn’t have a… clue.

Into this chaos has wandered Duncan. With his invitation clearly stating ‘party’ he’s turned up clutching a bottle of red wine and hopes of cake, lemon drizzle cake in particular. After all, it’s his birthday. But it’s not that kind of party. Duncan is mild-mannered and polite, and clearly bemused at the intellectual car-crash that’s happening around him. His attempts to engage with the discussion are met mainly with patronising derision, especially from the petulant Jared, but he’s clearly in a position of some power, even if he isn’t immediately aware of it. Duncan, after all, has a job and none of the others do. And his dad runs the local printers…

This was properly, laugh-out-loud funny

Rob Preston has directed this political comedy, shoehorned into the back of the Oval Tavern, with a deft touch. This genre can all too easily drift into heavy-handed stone throwing at one end of the political spectrum or the other, but here it’s a balanced, equal-opportunities swipe at any politician who seeks power for power’s sake. And most importantly, it’s funny. Properly, laugh-out-loud funny.

Photo by Liz Singh, used with permission.

The claustrophobic surroundings (something of a necessity as using the Oval’s outside staging would have been tempting the fates a little too much given our present unsettled weather) perfectly suited the piece, even if it made for limited movement. In Preston’s cast, the fragile ego’d, defensive and sniping Jared was well played by Liam Fretwell, his character desperate to take the lead but flexing intellectual muscles he hadn’t got. Only in the reference to Jared’s womanising did there seem to be a disconnect. The character was portrayed as being singularly effete, and the idea that he’d somehow recently bedded a number of women, in fact too many for him to remember, just didn’t work.

You’d have believed it of Matt Dixon’s Jonesy though. Playing the hard man, bluff and aggressive in his vest and heavy gold chain, Dixon gave Jonesy a convincing childlike vulnerability and swung from confrontation to collapse believably and well. Tia Matthew’s Phoebe too was occasionally just a moment or two away from tears it seemed, hiding her fragility behind a screen of organisation. She’s clearly compartmentalised her life, and when Aaron Holmes’ Nathan bursts in (noisily disturbing Jared’s mother’s anger management mantras en route) she’s shocked, disturbed and quickly unites with her bickering friends against this dangerous intellectual (Nathan has a degree in political science, and knows what Armenia is!) who threatens to upset their world. A nicely balanced performance.

I wanted June Brechin’s Mel to be more assertive, more forceful. In her Che Guevara beret and badge-adorned dungarees she more than looked the part, but she seemed to suffer more than most from the cramped staging, and in truth, I think that nerves may have played a part. Duncan too, as played by Tee Jay Hurley, was always going to suffer playing the straight man arrayed against a cadre of clowns, but somehow the balance wasn’t quite right. It’s so much harder to carry off a memorable performance when everyone else is playing larger-than-life, exaggerated, creations, and Hurley didn’t quite pull it off, though his final line was delivered with suitably understated menace.

That aside, the fact remains that inside an hour and ten minutes at the back of a pub, the cast had successfully created a pocket universe inside a potting shed. One that was peopled with wonderfully comedic yet properly three dimensional characters and some brilliantly funny lines.

“Is that a Blackberry you’re using?”

“Yes”

“Which one?”

“I don’t know, all Blackberries look the same to me”

“Racist!”

Breakfast Cat is a local non-professional collective and should be congratulated on pulling off a singular success here that many professional groups would be envious of. More, please.

Paul M Ford

Paul M Ford

Writing, singing, acting, stand-up comedy, not to mention banking and marketing, Paul has not so much followed a career path as leapt blind-fold into a dodgem car and headed down life’s highway, probably against the flow of traffic. With a fascination for history and a seemingly anachronistic sense of fair play, he’s a born-again Coulsdonian, who wants people to realise that a vision for a better Croydon should extend beyond a half-mile radius of the Whitgift Centre…

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