Review of “Party Piece”
reprinted from Dorchester News July 2004
For their latest production, DADS returned to the pen of playwright Richard Harris and what a felicitous return it turned out to be.
Following successes in recent years with “Outside Edge” and “Who Goes Bare?”, the choice this time was “Party Piece”, another hilarious comedy very ably interpreted and delivered by director Terry Chipperfield and a first-rate cast.
The action is set in the back gardens of two terraced houses somewhere in West London. In one, Michael and Roma Smethurst are preparing for a housewarming party to show off their ‘new’ house proudly restored, we learn, largely from the contents of neighbourhood skips. In the other, Mrs Hinson, an elderly widow expertly negotiating the stage with the aid of a Zimmer frame, is being visited by her son David, ex- market trader ‘made good’, and his ‘new’ wife Jennifer. Mrs Hinson is not one to mince words and it is obvious that while her son can do no wrong, she has little time for her daughter-in-law.
Preparations are not going well at the Smethursts, brilliantly played by Mark Williams and Sue Kitson. He has forgotten to take the food for the barbecue from the freezer early enough and it is reluctant to de-frost despite increasingly more violent persuasion. She has bought the ‘wrong’ charcoal which refuses to light. Tempers are becoming more and more frayed, not helped by a succession of phone calls from guests crying off from the event.
Meanwhile next door, David (Geoff Russell) is attempting, but failing, to keep the peace between his mother and Jennifer (Rosemary Mills). The object of their visit is to persuade his mother to give up her house and to live in a flat closer to him and his wife. His mother is reluctant to comply but agrees to come and stay for a few days while she considers. This invitation upsets Jennifer as her mother-in-law is deliberately expansive about the length of time she intends to stay. Jennifer in frustration throws the Zimmer frame over the fence.
The fancy-dress for the Smethursts’ party has a cross-dressing, famous couples theme and
as the time for the party arrives, Mikey and Ro appear on stage, he resplendent in long pink frock and auburn wig, and she in top-hat and tails, as Astaire and Rogers. The effect spoiled only a little by Ginger’s moustache, pinny, oven gloves and barbecue tongs. Two guests arrive, each alone without their partner, neither in fancy dress and one ‘without a bottle’; all of which further aggravate Michael who becomes increasingly manic as the evening progresses. The guests are the enebriated Toby, convincingly played by Anthony Sykes, and Sandy Lloyd-Meredith played by a wonderfully over-the-top Shirley Collen, who at the Saturday performance was suitably encouraged by a noisy contingent from Warborough.
Inevitably, the Hinsons are drawn into the party where Connie Macdonald, truly superb as the indomitable Mrs Hinson, continues to cause havoc until the evening draws to a farcical close.
With an excellent set and superbly timed sound and special effects to assist the very fluid movement of the action, Michael Herbert, Simon Ratliff and the rest of the backstage team also played major roles in the success of the production and our enjoyment of it.
Even though DADS had staged the production a month earlier than is usual, they didn’t fool the weather and were again performing in georgeous summer temperatures. One might be tempted to arrange a holiday to coincide with their spring show; to have done so this year, would have meant missing a treat.