What does the word ‘party’ evoke? A Valhalla of vomit, decadence and Hammer of the Gods style excess, resulting in tears, stains and despair? Or giddy toddlers in fancy dress, running around demented on over-sweetened and salted snacks, resulting in tears, stains and despair?
Private Party is the follow-up to Janice Parker’s critically acclaimed Private Dancer, and is an immersive experience which blurs genres—neither dance piece, nor theatre, but both, with a witty and poignant storytelling element.
A devised collaboration between Parker, debonair host and designer/co-director Richard Layzell, producer Margaret Anne O’Donnell and a fantastic ensemble of fourteen, there is a freewheeling structure to the production, which consistently keeps the audience guessing what’s around the corner, tentatively led down corridors into the bowels of The Arches.
Glitter balls and party photographs festoon the halls, and the iPod is, of course, on shuffle: from the easy listening of Tennessee Waltz to Love Too Soon, PJ Harvey’s elegiac break-up song. The cast, who are a disparate blend of older, younger, disabled and able-bodied, melt effortlessly into the various choreographic moods, whether mirroring, freestyling, waltzing, or in one wonderful jazz-inspired, lindy hopping-esque dance, turned upside down and spanked.
Elegant performer Vicky McMillan is the party girl with a score to settle—she tells an anecdote of how she had a beautiful 21st birthday party years ago, complete with pipers piping in her cake and a beautiful dress. All went perfectly, until she realised her dad had left the cover on his camera the whole time, and so she wants to recreate her 21st, and document it properly this time with a Polaroid camera. Guests are actively encouraged to do the same.
The intimacy and inclusivity is such that guests may not be able to join in with the dancing, but can throw requests at the performers, resulting in karaoke which is utterly dreadful and some improvised anarchic dance moves. It is the very loose, irreverent spirit of Private Party that gives it its charm – not one single performer is taking it too seriously and the tropes and limitations of dance performance/ spectator are gleefully pounced on.
It may at times resemble a childrens’ party filtered through the adult prism of nostalgia, but there are many layers of emotional resonance—responses are entirely dependant on age, memory and experience: in the main, gorgeous, heartwarming and good fun. And entirely vomit-free, if not without a few tears.