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The Wild Party review at Hope Theatre, London – ‘diverting and lively’

Anna Clarke and Joey Akubeze in The Wild Party at the Hope Theatre, London. Photo: Alex Fine
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Packed with sex, sleaze, and unsympathetic characters, Joseph Moncure March’s provocative narrative poem The Wild Party was banned on publication in 1928. Director Rafaella Marcus gives it a brisk, earthy treatment here, revelling in the syncopated sprung rhythm of the language, keeping her two performers in constant, dynamic motion.

Dancing on banana skins and broken records, sprawling across the tiny space, or entwining in a bathtub, Joey Akubeze and Anna Clarke are energetic and engaging. Between them, they create vivid caricatures of the party’s diverse, decadent guests – lowlifes and glitterati, alcoholics and outsiders celebrating their uniqueness. These smaller stories orbit the decaying, toxically dysfunctional relationship between hosts Queenie and Burrs, whose mutual aim of making each other violently jealous has predictably disastrous results.

Clarke is both fierce and fragile as Queenie, hiding her vulnerability behind a mask of jaded glamour. When it slips, we glimpse a nasty undercurrent of violence – emotional, physical, sexual – which sometimes gels uncomfortably with the production’s blithe, brash tone. This playful theatricality sees both performers stripping away layers of costume, flirting with the audience, and messily munching some very literal forbidden fruit.

Periodically, they slip into amusing, jazzed-up covers of modern pop, taking in everything from Britney Spears to the White Stripes. A breathy, bluesy version of Bon Jovi’s You Give Love a Bad Name is unquestionably superior to the original.

Will Alder’s lighting charts the party’s shifting mood, slipping casually between louche lilac and purple washes, before abruptly terminating in stark, suitably noirish, chiaroscuro.

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Diverting tale of 1920s debauchery given a lively, cabaret-tinged treatment.