Sadly, this year’s Fringe seems to be full of shows trying to gain the excitement and ticket sales that come with ‘immersive’ performances without considering how this form actually suits the story they are trying to tell. Party Game is a perfect example of this – promising fun, games and interaction in a blurb that jumps off the page but remains sorely disappointing in the flesh.
Musical numbers, audience games, choreo and more traditional scenes are blended together in a frankly confusing mixture – making the audience sweep and tidy the stage doesn’t create the sort of interdependence between spectator and performer that immersive theatre relies upon. We wait for an unnamed person, the recipient of this surprise celebration – naturally he takes his time showing up and we are treated to the dramas of the others. Stephen is neglecting his sister and her new-born while causing endless worry perpetually patient wife. It is all decent stuff, with some lovely moments of emotion, but the odd poker games and party antics in the middle only serve to break up any feelings we have towards the characters; watching the ensemble trying gamely to navigate and entertains a rather stubborn audience only serves to break down the dramatic illusion of the previous sections.
The problem is that the characters stray slightly too far towards the stereotypical for the audience actually empathize with their situation at all, despite the best efforts of the ensemble cast. With the actual story only taking up around a quarter of the playing time, we never really feel like the interactive sections are there for any other reason than to be ‘interactive’ and therefore fulfil the promises on the blurb rather than the plot of the show. The constant waiting means the party atmosphere slowly and painfully fizzles out by around minute 60. What is left seems just like time-fillers, with little point other than to attempt to stoke the audience’s flailing enthusiasm. Many of the ideas present are highly interesting, but the piece will need a lot more love and attention before substance and style coalesce.