There’s a surprise party going down at the Art College’s Wee Red Bar tonight, to which we’ve been invited. Four performers from Toronto companies bluemouth inc. and Necessary Angel have done the setting up, digging out the occasional chairs, the vinyl records and the bunting. We just need to help them with a few final preparations before the guest of honour arrives…
As we busy ourselves re-arranging the chairs and stringing up the bunting, it occurs that we might be trapped, Waiting for Godot style, in thoroughly absurd activity waiting for someone who isn’t coming. But then our performers/hosts slip out of party mode to present snapshots of a back story. We learn their professional, romantic and familial connections, we get hints of trauma, we begin to piece together who the guest of honour is.
Party Game requires a certain level of disinhibition. At the very least you’re required to commit to some chair-shifting; you might be called upon to sing… or worse… if you take part in the mid-show poker game. For that participation, you’re rewarded with admission into the inner circle of these four characters. You see their tensions played out through physical theatre (includes nudity), song and fragmentary dialogue. It takes time for the fragments to congeal, but once they do, you’re left to ponder the complex histories that underlie even a simple toast to a great guy. No party is as it seems on the surface – an occasion of unabashed joy. There’s always an undercurrent of resentment or envy or unrequited emotion swirling underneath.
This production, part of the Traverse Festival programme, makes good use of an under-appreciated space. The interactive element makes it difficult for those with mobility problems to fully enjoy, but for those who can commit, there’s an extra edge to be gained from that slight sense of fear and unpredictability. Not every part of the piece feels necessary, even in retrospect, but there’s satisfaction to be gained in the slow realisation of what’s happening.