Life upon the wicked stage: The Wild Party @theotherpalace

The St James Theatre gets a new name and a hot new show that never lets up with The Wild Party. They dance, they sing, they party as if it were 1928.

Based on a notorious poem by Joseph Moncure March, Michael John LaChiusa with George C. Woolfe turn it into a sung through musical vaudeville.  Kander and Ebb did something similar with Chicago, but it always felt tongue in cheek. Here it's as if the tongue is planted in some other filthier crevice. It's darker. And dirtier. And sometimes horrific.

Set over the course of a party hosted by two vaudville performers, it revels in sex and sleaze among their show-biz friends. People arrive. They drink. They do drugs. They fight. They have sex.

And with director choreographer Drew McOnie's dance and movement, the piece feels provocative, relentless and breathtaking. Perhaps it isn't a party to suit all tastes. But its frenzied pace, complex score and terrific lineup of talent make it hard to ignore, even if you feel like you need to shower after seeing it.

Frances Ruffelle is intriguing as the tired and vulnerable Queenie, who likes her men to give her a hard time. Opposite her is John Owen Jones as her violent partner Burrs. At first he seems an odd choice to play Burrs. Too likeable and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Ed Balls. But over the course of the evening Jones twists the role into something quite demented.

The format of the show gives the large cast plenty of time to fill out their characters. This includes Kate the star, played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, looking creepily gothic and offering up her gigolo partner to Queenie. The Lesbian stripper Madeline (Tiffany Graves) and her ambivalent performance artist girlfriend. And veteran performer Delores (Donna McKechnie) using her seemingly well-worn powers of seduction to stay in business.

Newcomers Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynea playing the androgynous D’armano Broswho are mesmerising as the double act that comment on the action. And then get corrupted by it.

The piece, which was a Broadway flop in 2000 is not without its flaws. It helps to understand the prohibition and vaudeville era as there is much assumed knowledge in presenting this cavalcade of characters. The complexity of the music at times drowns out the singers and the lyrics. And often the piece lacks subtlety. But it is an explosive start to a new series of rarely seen shows and new works that will be coming to the Other Palace.

Directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, The Wild Party is at The Other Palace until 1 April.


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