You know what they say, there ain’t no party like a Gatsby party cos a Gatsby party don’t stop until at least two people are dead and everyone is disillusioned with the Jazz Age as a whole.
That’s what we love about that era, isn’t it? The potent cocktail of jazz hands, bristling sex and bootleg liquor that thrills and chills, that’s both decadent and despairing. With the 2020s shaping up to be far less roaring than those of the previous century, it makes sense that our artists would now turn to the works of almost a century ago seeking glittering debauchery, a touch of profundity and insight in these uncertain times.
And while The Wild Party has the sparkle and the fun, this production offers up a lot of jazz hands but less of the hard liquor. The piece is performed at breakneck speed, punctuated with a collection of Postmodern Jukebox’s greatest hits – reimaginings of modern pop songs with a vintage twist. The songs are a lot of fun and are energetically performed by actors Anna Clarke and Joey Akubeze – Clarke in particular smoulders and shows off a mean set of pipes. But tottering atop of these two sharp performances come endless costume changes, shattering vinyl records-turned genuinely dangerous projectiles and a bit of slapstick involving actual, physical forbidden fruit that unsexed many of the play’s most primal moments. Indeed, the night I attended, a climactic, potently sexual scene between Queenie and Black ground to an admittedly hilarious halt when one performer almost choked on a bit of banana.
The Wild Party should be a tapestry of interwoven relationships: love sparks, fades and flickers; norms are challenged, taboos explored. There’s a veritable rainbow of sexuality on display in the text, from defiant lesbians to the friend-fucking Burrs and Kate and a lover/brother piano duo. It’s tough to pull off that kind of exuberant mêlée of human experiences with just one pretty girl and a man in a dress. Often, it hurts the clarity – it’s easy to get lost in who’s grabbing who at any one moment – but it also distills the daring variety of the poem into a single, heterosexual relationship – in this production, Queenie and Black are all that feels real, the rest are little more than a funny accent and a deviant tendency or two – sideshow attractions, with a normative romance as the main event.
That’s not to say it’s not a fun ride. By the end of the play, the stage is strewn with costumes and smushed, slightly rotting symbolism, that swing version of Call Me Maybe is still stuck in my head and there are there are bits of vinyl in my hair and petticoats. It’s got all the fun and frolic of a Great Gatsby themed party and ends in much the same way – everyone’s hung over, there’s a mess to clean up and very little has been done to address the existential ennui slowly filling the room like a poisonous gas.
The Wild Party runs at The Hope Theatre until 28th January. Click here for more information.