Currently playing at Islington’s Hope Theatre is Mingled Yarn’s production of The Wild Party. It is an adaptation of Joseph Moncure March’s narrative poem straight out of the Jazz Age, given a 21st century twist.
Central to the story is vaudeville star Queenie, who gets herself into a relationship with Burrs (a clown) that is initially exciting – but she soon becomes more scared than thrilled about his violent nature. In a bid to reignite their previous spark, Queenie suggests they throw a party with an outrageous guest list. She & Burrs both try to make each other jealous, with disastrous consequences…
Mingled Yarn’s production takes the original long poem as its centrepiece and embellishes it with some surprising musical interludes: jazz versions of popular songs such as Toxic, and You Give Love A Bad Name. Each song is carefully selected to reflect upon events of the scene that has just been played out, as well as adding a bit more comedy value when you work out the song that’s being sung.
Another interesting point about this production is that it is a two-hander. This is a bold move, given the volume of characters involved in the story! It does occasionally feel like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew; costumes remain the same for the duration of the scene, so the audience is relying on voices & mannerisms to distinguish each role the cast takes on. Quite cleverly, most can be separated into distinct pairings (aside from one instance where a prop arm is used, to great comedic effect), meaning the actors are more often than not functioning as different double acts.
The performance area is thrust, however the actors utilise any spare bit of space in the room – it feels like you are quite immersed in the world of The Wild Party. Minglu Wang’s costume design is fantastic, in particular the stunning flapper dresses worn for most of the show. There is also some wonderful lighting design from Will Alder, however one of the later scenes shines a light directly at one section of the audience rendering them temporarily partially-sighted, which isn’t ideal.
Joey Akubeze & Anna Clarke make a captivating duo. Their chemistry is obvious, as they switch from couple to couple – and both have impeccable comic timing. They’re not afraid to really look their audience in the eye either! Clarke’s vocals suit the jazz style perfectly, and I couldn’t imagine a more vivacious & insatiable Queenie.
My verdict? A fun & flirty look at the darker side of the Jazz Age – a classic story, imaginatively re-told.
The Wild Party runs at the Hope Theatre until 28 January 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.