by Tom Basden
Presented by The Invisible Dot
(West End run in association with Rupert Gavin)
Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, 6 – 31 August 2009
Seymour Centre, Sydney, 12 – 17 January 2010
Arts Theatre, London, 1 – 13 March 2010
cast list | reviews: West End, Sydney, Edinburgh | photographs | flyer
Jared – Jonny Sweet
Mel – Anna Crilly
Jones – Tom Basden
Phoebe – Katy Wix
Duncan – Tim Key
Short Coat – Nick Mohammed
Directed by Phillip Breen
Designed by Max Jones (London)
Lighting design by Tim Lutkin (London)
Stage Managed by Tracky Crombie (Edinburgh)
Produced by Simon Pearce for The Invisible Dot
Selected Reviews: West End
SCOTSMAN FRINGE FIRST WINNER 2009
by Brian Logan
There are pitfalls when comedians make theatre. Sometimes they strive too hard to be serious; sometimes (judging by the reviews of last summer's The School for Scandal), they don't strive hard enough. The 2007 If.Comedy award winner for best newcomer, Tom Basden, sweeps all such considerations aside with his new play about student politics, an idiosyncratic and highly enjoyable piece performed beautifully by a crack cast of upcoming comics.
It's light on plot, but funny enough for that not to matter. Four dopey students have assembled in wannabe leader Jared's shed – summerhouse, he claims – to draft a manifesto for their right-on new political party. The fifth attendee, Duncan (Edinburgh Comedy award champ Tim Key) has been invited because his dad runs a printer's shop, which is handy for marketing. But Duncan cares less for campaigning than for the lemon drizzle cake.
This generation of comics is much given to childlike behaviour in their own work: Josie Long is all sticky-tape and crayons; Anna Crilly and Katy Wix (who both star here) make like delinquent infants in their sketch shows. Basden so exaggerates his characters' petulance and political ignorance that they're no longer remotely plausible as adults. These are people who go tongue-tied when asked to talk about climate
change; who think 'Muslims' counts as a country. These are, in other words, overgrown kids – vividly so, in the case of current Edinburgh Comedy Award Best Newcomer Jonny Sweet, whose curiously fey manner (his delivery is half singsong, half orgasmic moan) brings the bossy-boots would-be PM Jared irresistibly to life.
But who cares about credibility when the style is this seductive, and the jokes this good? The script bears the hallmarks of Basden's standup: witness nuggets such as 'What is pillaging?' 'It's somewhere between rape and theft.' There are echoes of Brass Eye, too, in the ridiculously binary foreign policies: 'Are we for or against China?' Elsewhere, the script simply gets out of the way, leaving the stage clear for extraneous comic business, such as the oddball sequence in which Duncan fills right to the brim everyone else's glass of water.
Party is like Camus's Les Justes restaged by precocious Sunday school pupils. The satire is slight, but stealthy – not least in the suggestion that democracy as reinvented by simplistic idiots still passingly resembles the system now in use, or the play's hint that, if you started politics from scratch these days, the first thing you'd consider would be branding. These points are lightly made, in a production by Phillip Breen that is chock-full of gags and charisma. You wouldn't want this lot running the country. But comedy-wise, they get my vote.
by Paul Taylor
What coronaries, kittens and caterwauling tantrums one would have – doubtless simultaneously – if one could eavesdrop on a political party's HQ when it was awash with bad faith at manifesto-writing time. So it says a lot for Tom Basden's play-making skills that he has managed to concoct a charmingly funny comedy about the process. We're not talking David Hare here. Basden's satire is gentle and oblique and it derives its beguiling mix of acuity and tactical daffiness from the fact that, far from being professional politicians in Millbank, the five twentysomethings whom we follow through 70 minutes of inconclusive bickering are incompetents hard put to come up with a name for their organisation, let alone any mutually agreed policies beyond 'democracy' and 'space programme'.
The latter they realise probably has no legs financially, what with the need for cuts. As for the former, well, there's so much deliciously petty tetchiness within the group that general principle falls foul of particular peeves at every turn. Did I mention that they are holed in a garden shed that belongs to the offstage, Buddhist-chanting mother of Jared (Jonny Sweet), a young man in whom the oppressively reassuring manner of a latter-day vicar does battle with serene intellectual dimness and delusional desire to be Prime Minister? They know how to go through the motions of canvassing one another's ideas and taking votes, but you would not trust this lot to run a single bring-and-buy stall for some disaster relief fund.
Insofar as we have a representative onstage, it's the hilariously hesitant, apparently slower, yet intermittently sharper Duncan, beautifully played by Tim Key. He's there on a misunderstanding. It's his birthday and he mistakenly, well, you can fill in the rest. There's a lovely routine where Duncan, a suited 'square', pours water for everyone and, in a manner that may or may not be conscious subversion, fills each glass to the absolute brim. The play, too, is a perfect fit for its projected dimensions and boasts terrific performances from the author as the bolshie Jonesy, Katy Wix and Anna Crilly as two females who are prepared to play fast and loose with political correctness, and Nick Mohammed as an interloping would-be boyfriend whose callous dismissal rather exposes the Party's claims to humane inclusiveness.
by Stephanie Merritt
The debut stage play by award-winning comic Tom Basden witnesses four young idealists trying to form their own political party. The fifth member, Duncan (Tim Key), has arrived with some misunderstandings about the nature of the party. Since winning its Fringe First in Edinburgh last summer, Party has gained a detailed set designed by Max Jones. The script is bitingly funny and director Phillip Breen keeps up the pace of delivery. It's a beautiful ensemble performance from this cast of standups; Jonny Sweet is splendidly earnest as would-be party leader Jared, neatly counterbalanced by Anna Crilly's Mel. The tensions come to a head in a chaotic leadership hustings, where Key's facial expressions threaten to steal the show as he raises bewilderment to an art form. Party is a comic delight that also offers an oblique commentary on 'grown-up' politics.
Basden and Co deliver an hour that promises comedy and doesn't go back on its word.
Such is the intention, at least, of the five characters in Tom Basden’s new comic play, Party, which has just opened for a two-week run at Soho’s Arts Theatre, about a group of misguided students attempting to redefine politics from the safety of a garden shed. (Sorry, “summer house”.) As you would hope of a production that got rave reviews at Edinburgh, it is funny, well observed, and in some instances, a little painfully familiar.
Three boys (Basden, Jonny Sweet and Tim Key) and two girls (Anna Crilly and Katy Wix) have congregated in the summer house belonging to the mother of Jarred (Sweet), the group’s de facto leader and resident sleazebag/puffball. Among the topics up for (rather aimless) discussion are China — “Are we in favour?” — whether you should throw away non-Fair Trade coffee when it’s already brewed, and an extended gag involving names for their newly founded party: Jarred suggests “Gladios” (”It’s Latin for sword”), while Basden’s character Jones, a smart-arsed cynic in high-waisted jeans, prefers “The Righteous Party”, a suggestion that is dismissed for being too readily connected to the Brothers of “Unchained Melody” fame.
Everyone here is, as you might already have divined, a bit of a div, though their knowledge of current affairs is probably at the same level as someone who skim-reads the Guardian — which causes much laughter from the audience, some of it nervous. Also thrown into the mix is Duncan (Key), a vague friend of Jones who has been invited because his step-dad owns a printing shop, but is under the impression that this is a party-party, not a Party-party, and has thus brought along a bottle of plonk.
Among a strong cast it is Key as the idiot-savant Duncan who has the most clout, bolstered partly by his recent success at Edinburgh, winning the main comedy prize (though Basden and Sweet have both won Edinburgh “best newcomer” awards), and also by the fact that the staging often places him as the central, sympathetic figure in a Last-Supper-but-with-wallies tableau. There are minor tweaks that could be helpful (on the press night, Basden’s chair was facing away from the audience so that his adept facial nuances were hidden) and you shouldn’t expect a story as such — it’s more of an extended skit, backed up by some fine, clever writing. Still, for an enjoyable hour and a quarter with some of the rising stars of British comedy, it’s got our vote.
by Sam Smith
"Packs a lot of humour and insight into its 70- minute running time...Tom Basden's play may well be one of the funniest parties you'll ever attend."
"It's clear that this is a work of comedic perfection"
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE
by Amy Yorston
With completely straight performances and every character looking out for number one, this is cuttingly satirical and scarily plausible. Mel (suitably sulky Anna Crilly) wants a recount after the leadership vote, Jones (the multi-talented Tim Basden) loses his temper after being denied coffee as Phoebe (Katy Wix's confused feminist) forgot to buy Fair Trade and Duncan (brought in because his Dad owns a printing shop) just wants a slice of lemon drizzle cake.
by Dominic Cavendish
Party, by the comedian Tom Basden, is an astute, stingingly amusing extended sketch about today’s clueless youth: a very English, quintessentially middle-class breed of clueless youth. It’s also, if you want it to be – and in the run-up to election time, how could it not be? – a sly depiction of the vapid mental atmosphere that surrounds contemporary politics: big on buzz-words, brain-storming sessions and right-on attitudes, laughably short on specifics and real-world knowledge.
Gathered together in a junk-piled garden shed are Jared and his mates – Jones, Mel and Phoebe, along with a straight-laced outsider called Duncan, who for much of the first-half of this short (70-minute) piece labours under the misunderstanding that he has been invited to an actual cakes-and-all party.
In fact, half-baked though the conversation is, the open and obvious aim of the meeting is to cook up a new political party – with policies, image and name decided there and then in a fashion that can only be described as idiotically inept. Whether the team are “in favour of China” is put to a show of hands at the start, the swiftly debated pros and cons boiling down to “cuisine” versus “mobile death vans” – which are likened to mobile libraries, only without the books and with much more killing equipment. Desultory discussions of a similarly ill-informed nature about muslims, sex-trafficking, climate-change and the like follow in no particular order, and to no productive effect, besides stirring petty squabbles.
A show this slight – and sure, it often feels like the stage pilot for a TV sitcom – depends for its comic effectiveness upon the gifts of its cast. And it’s as a showcase for some outstanding emerging talent that this evening fully earns its keep. It’s hard not for the eye to be drawn to Jonny Sweet’s gangly Jared, whose earnestness, unearned superiority and drifty-voiced manner recall that of a quietly controlling vicar. Sweet is amply matched for watchability, though, by Tim Key’s Duncan, a beautifully deadpan study in apprehensive gormlessness. Basden himself is under-used in the negligible role of Jones, while both Anna Crilly as Mel and Katy Wix as Phoebe display promise that warrants more than their characters’ caricatured insecurity allows. Likewise Nick Mohammed bobs up all too briefly as an instantly patronised Asian interloper. Not quite the stuff of a landslide victory, then, but it ticks a lot of the right boxes, and I laughed a lot.
by Sarah Hemming
As British voters survey, perhaps somewhat gloomily, the long slog up to polling day, Tom Basden’s sprightly political satire nips into the Arts Theatre to sprinkle a little levity on pre-election hostilities. His comedy, first seen at the Edinburgh Festival last summer, depicts a group of young people who have looked at what’s on offer from the existing political parties and not only concluded that they could do better, but have decided to do something about it. We join them as they hold a feverish meeting in Jared’s mum’s shed to thrash out the manifesto for their new political party.
The only trouble is, they don’t have a clue. Well-meaning but vacuous, they have heated arguments based on faulty premises, can’t decide on their stance on Armenia because they don’t know where it is, and come to blows over whether they should or shouldn’t drink a pot of non-Fairtrade coffee.
Jones (Basden) gets the job of foreign secretary because his mother is Welsh; Mel (Anna Crilly) becomes health secretary because she has Irritable Bowel System; and Jared (Jonny Sweet) fancies himself as prime minister, but then he fancies himself generally, so no one takes him seriously. The only characters who have an ounce of political know-how are Duncan (Tim Key), a timid hanger-on who thought he was coming to a real party, and Nathan (Nick Mohammed), a would-be date for Phoebe (Katy Wix) who is sent packing as soon as he reveals that he knows what he is talking about.
The five tie themselves in logistical knots, making for an amusing 80 minutes of ill-informed squabbling. The play could do with developing and would have more bite if the characters were not so completely inept. But it is enjoyably delivered in Phillip Breen’s production, has some very funny moments (including one absurd example of water-pouring) and makes some astute points.
Everyone is in favour of democracy, yet, when the team holds a vote, no one likes the result. The party members can’t agree on a name, slogan or image, which results in meaningless branding. And when each aspiring leader of the party has to sum up their policies in three words, the meeting degenerates into playground taunts. Which of course would never happen in the real world of politics.
AND FROM THE BLOG OF ANDREW COLLINS...
(I am going to mention director Phillip Breen here, as directors never get mentioned, and he has blocked it and staged it brilliantly, and must be at least partly responsible for some of those skilled reactions from the actors.)
Selected Review: Sydney
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
by Lenny Ann Low
FIVE young people are assembled in a suburban garden shed somewhere in England. Four have started a political party although, so far, their only agreed beliefs are democracy and, possibly, a space program.
The fifth, well, the fifth isn't certain what's going on. He's there because he thought his invitation meant a celebration, not a coalition.
But the others are oblivious, busy as they are voting on issues. Are we for or against China? What is the consensus on Muslims? On cycle lanes, poor people and sex trafficking? And, just how could someone dare to serve non-Fairtrade coffee at the meeting?
Written by Tom Basden, Party is a savvy, beautifully played comedy that manages to speak volumes about political rhetoric and uninformed advocacy without being high-handed or mired in topical references.
It shines via nimble comic rhythms in the direction and writing, and from the finely tuned interactions between characters. All are believable, their dizzy beliefs and uninformed attitudes reminding us of people we know, or even ourselves. They're also hilarious because they're just the sort of clueless dopes who could reach power.
Jared (Jonny Sweet), self-important, obnoxious and sexist, believes he leads the group. The stridently feminist party secretary, Phoebe (Katy Wix), plays distressed damsel when it suits her. Mel (Anna Crilly) is vociferous in political correctness but, like the frustrated Jones (Basden), knows little detail behind hot political topics. Nick Mohammed's brief appearance as Nathan, possibly the only person who comprehends political systems and theories, is quickly extinguished lest his threatening knowledge weaken the party.
Then there's Duncan (Tim Key), bewildered by his surrounds and the bickering atmosphere, but still holding out for cake.
Most of the cast are frequent comedy collaborators and the easy ensemble work that results makes Party a winner. On a spare set, the director, Phillip Breen, and the writer, Basden, inspire fine things from each performer, in particular Wix's subtle timing and Key's charming bafflement. The only drawback is the venue's size, overwhelming for a production that suits a snugger room.
Selected Reviews: Edinburgh
SCOTSMAN FRINGE FIRST WINNER 2009
by David Pollock
In one of their mothers' conservatories in deepest Middle England, five young idealists furiously brainstorm the foreign policy stance of their embryonic political party. Are they for or against China? The vote is cast. Now, which country is next on the agenda? "Are we for or against Muslims?" So perhaps they don't quite have the hang of the business's finer points yet.
Written by Tom Basden and starring Anna Crilly, Tim Key, Jonny Sweet and Katy Wix alongside the author, this intimate comedy is hilarious and recommended particularly for those who like political humour but grow tired of the often attendant stuffiness. That it illuminates the importance of political engagement for a youthful audience (because this spectacularly undeserving bunch would probably still grow up to be cabinet ministers in the real world) and reflects disdainfully on the soundbite-led pop politics of both New Labour and the New Tories are just minor triumphs of a show that places the laughs above the message.
It isn't so much that the group are dim-witted, so much as their youthful naďvety is turned up to deafening levels. Crilly's character, for example, won't let Basden satisfy his coffee craving because there's no Fair Trade coffee in the house – but surely, pipes up another, excuses can be made for whoever bought the bad coffee because it has a picture of happy farmers tilling the fields on the label.
The real conflict, however, is between Sweet and Key, and neither of them realises it. The former is ambitious, well-off and self-interested (he wants to name the party Gladios – "Latin for sword!"); the latter is working-class but useful, only vaguely interested and under the impression he was coming to his own birthday party ("The Friendly Party?" is his hopeful naming suggestion). It's to his credit that Basden lets others have these great parts.
Amidst an outstanding cast, the excellent Key as Duncan really shines, his docile, watching presence punctuated by devastating punchlines which often arrive as an uncertain whisper amid the others' bluster, and his attempt at passing round the water is a show-stopping sequence.
This is a play that speaks volumes about people and politics – but just as importantly, it's one which will keep you laughing from start to finish.
by Dominic Maxwell
Tom Basden won the if.comedy Best Newcomer award two years ago for a richly inventive solo show in which he sang songs but left audience interaction to his PowerPoint presentation. This year, he’s back — talking this time — with another musical show (at the Pleasance Courtyard) of equal ingenuity.
For me, his solo shows are stunning for 20 minutes, too cold to sustain a whole hour. But his new comedy play Party is wry and surprising throughout, with more than its share of laugh-out-loud moments. It’s brought to life by a superb cast of comics: Anna Crilly, Katy Wix, Nick Mohammed, Jonny Sweet, Basden himself and Tim Key, his cohort from the sketch quartet Cowards.
They play a group of young people who decide, with a mix of ravishing naivety and low-key powerbroking, to set up their own political party. They debate first principles: what their stance on each country will be, whether they can possibly drink coffee that isn’t fair trade and, most importantly, what jobs they should each hold.
Party is a spoof of student politics. But, like its protagonists, it’s too quirky to be constrained by a single agenda. Key’s uncomprehending Duncan, invited to the group only because his stepfather is a printer, is more concerned with the promised lemon drizzle cake than changing the political hegemony. They have an election for leader that goes so badly that they consider altering the result before rationality returns: “I don’t think the phrase ‘just this once’ can really be applied to fixing elections’.” It’s new Labour meets the Famous Five.
It might be merely silly if the playing was not so sublimely straight and if Basden’s lines weren’t so sharp. And if Phillip Breen’s production is largely static on this small stage, stiltedness is a key part of the joke. It’s more than a sketch, less than a play, perhaps. But it sustains itself gloriously well in one of the most enjoyable hours in town.
by Alice Jones
As all budding politicos and wonks know, changing the world is fraught with pitfalls. First, you have to decide your stance on an entire spreadsheet of "issues" from the congestion charge to China, then there's the minefield of choosing a colour for your posters, not to mention the endless potential for gaffes involving un-fair trade coffee and the pronoun "they".
These and many other thorny problems are raised in Party, a hilarious new play written by Tom Basden – if.comedy Best Newcomer in 2007 – and performed by a superb cast of new talents.
In a suburban garden shed five friends are forming a new political party, working out what they stand for ("So we're all in favour of China and Muslims?"), getting to grips with the vernacular of bureaucracy and arguing over when to break out the lemon drizzle cake.
There's Jared, nice-but-dim, and, since it's his parents' shed, self-appointed leader (Jonny Sweet, a dead ringer for David Cameron who has just been cast to play the Conservative leader in a television drama about his early years); Mel (Anna Crilly), a strident liberal with strongly held beliefs but dangerously little knowledge; Phoebe (Katy Wix), secretary and sort of feminist; Jones, a highly competitive soul with one eye on the leadership (Basden); and Duncan (wonderfully deadpan Tim Key) who thought he was coming to a party, not to a Party and doesn' really understand what all the talking and voting is about.
Basden's deftly written script injects new life into the hoary old genre of political satire and the excellent quintet deliver it with perfect timing. There's an joyous debate over the party's name - '"Peace in the Middle East Party." What if there's peace?" "Then everyone will think it was our idea,"' and an absurd climactic scene on the perils of democracy. Brilliant.
THE LIST THEATRE HITLIST
Tight, hilarious comic play about a gaggle of diverse characters struggling to form new political party, featuring the comic talents of Tim Key, Anna Crilly, Jonny Sweet and Katy Wix.
by Brian Donaldson
Thrusting politicos, talented comics
Seemingly unlike the vast majority of politicians in this country, Tom Basden is a truly honourable man. Having written this tight and hilarious comic play about a gaggle of diverse characters fumbling their way around the formation of a new political party, he has somewhat kindly given all the best lines and sharpest moves to his fellow performers. But little wonder when he has the expansive talents of Tim Key, Anna Crilly, Jonny Sweet and Katy Wix to call on; and they take up the offer with relish and gusto.
Believing that he has been invited to an actual party, Duncan (Key) erroneously drops in on a debating chamber of young thrusting politicos who are trying in their own argumentative and gently corrupting way to change the world. What could have been a hectoring state-of-the-nation-hour thankfully loosens up and lets the quintet shift into full-on comic mode. There, they greedily swallow the deft language and spit out the many pay-offs as they vote on leader, a party name and whether China is a good thing.
by Alan Chadwick
This is one Party to remember
Tom Basden's deliciously funny ensemble piece about a bunch of young idealists fumbling around in deepest suburbia trying to start a political party has the sort of feel-good factor Gordon Brown can only dream about.
Full of the bickering, jockeying for position and illogical decision making that plagues the business end of the real thing, if a week is a long time in politics, an hour spent in the company of Basden and his excellent co-stars (Tim Key, Jonny Sweet, Anna Crilly and Katy Wix) is an absolute joy.
Essential to proceedings is the hapless Duncan(Key), who's only turned up because he mistakenly thinks it's a party where there might be some lemon drizzle cake and ends up staging the unlikeliest of coups. But when the core beliefs voted on so far by the group amount to two – democracy and a space programme (maybe) – and one of your committee can't distinguish between sex trafficking and dogging, it's fair to say he's hardly brushing up against the most brilliant political minds. Is this the funniest play on the Fringe? Well it certainly gets my vote.
I went to see Party this afternoon, which is a play written by the multi-talented Tom Basden, featuring himself, Tim Key, Anna Crilly, Jonny Sweet and Katy Wix. It's very funny and enjoyable with lovely performances all round and my absolute guarantee that more than half the people in this show will go on to be major stars of the future, if not all of them. Tim Key,who cracked my rib last year, was the stand out performance for me. Subtle and masterfully comic and so good in fact that I have decided to spell his name correctly from now on, which was something I vowed never to do after he had harmed me so badly. I think I might be in love with him. But perhaps that was part of his plan. To hurt me so badly first, knowing that that would lead to true devotion eventually. It's worked. But let's not make it all about my future husband Tim, all the others are ace too and the writing's great. You should go.
British Theatre Guide
by Philip Fisher
Nightmares are like this. You sit in a hot, packed room for close to an hour suffering from total incomprehension.
A bunch of apparent undergraduates are sitting on a stage discussing the creation of a liberal political party with racist overtones, demonstrating all of the knowledge that one might expect from disinterested GCSE students.
Judging by some of the audience reaction, this must be some kind of subtly acerbic comedy but unfortunately, your reviewer missed the point by a very long way.
(QED Mr. Fisher - Ed.)
Tom Basden as Jones. Photo © Pete Le May
Katy Wix as Phoebe, Jonny Sweet as Jared, Tom Basden, Tim Key as Duncan. Photo © Pete Le May
Katy Wix, Tim Key. Photo © Pete Le May
Tom Basden, Katy Wix, Jonny Sweet, Tim Key, Nick Mohammed as Nathan. Photo © Pete Le May
Jonny Sweet. Photo © Pete Le May
Tom Basden, Katy Wix, Tim Key, Jonny Sweet, Anna Crilly as Mel. Photo © Pete Le May
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