Thomas Froy reviews Nigel Barrett & Louise Mari’s genre defying immersive experience at the Shoreditch Town Hall.
Sometimes, plays have clear beginnings and endings. Sometimes, plays are ambiguous. Sometimes, it’s not even clear it’s a play.
Some plays are quite easy to review. You can talk about the set, the acting and the overall themes. There may be complexity, or some slightly unusual set ups, but normally it’s quite straightforward ‘Party Skills For The End Of The World’ is in no sense straightforward.
We arrive in a large, open room, lined with tables with bottles of Vermouth and Gin next to instructions on how to make a perfect cocktail. The walls have enormous banners giving advice on how to remember names. After 20 minutes of wandering around, chatting, an actor appears from the crowd and introduces herself, detailing her background, where she lives and what her parents are called. She then gives advice on enjoying yourself. A second actor appears and gives advice on how to avoid looking vulnerable in a social space- pretend to chew gum.
We are then led upstairs to an enormous party room where we are encouraged to play musical chairs. We do; it’s fun. There remains a slight sense of unease, as we seem to be still waiting for the ‘the play’ to begin. Then we are spread along two sides of a catwalk which the actors walk across in the most eclectic, unusual, random, shocking, hilarious outfits. Sometimes they are wearing nothing, sometimes gimp masks, sometimes grass outfits. Etc etc etc. Some pause to give further advice, ranging from ‘how to avoid a knife attack’ to ‘how to escape being chained to a chair’. There is no structure, no narrative, no continuity. It is sometimes sad, sometimes scary, sometimes very funny, always bizarre.
Things come to an end with a long musical number, which we are encouraged to dance to and then a lengthy, gloomy monologue revealing to us what we are scared of. Ranging from ‘fear of losing your children, that your children hate you, that you hate your children’ to ‘that you lose your job, that you hate your job, that you are unfulfilled, that you are always too busy’. This prophesy is probably the weakest link in an otherwise wonderful painting of modern life.
The play, if that is what it was, ends but the fun is not over: we are encouraged to wander through the cellars of the venue where, in tiny rooms, we are taught in small groups how do things like ‘make a lightbulb’, ‘skin a rabbit’ and are offered a cup of tea. These activities are all led by members of the cast. It feels very honest and unpretentious. We left whenever we felt like it. A truly immersive experience.
Through this thoroughly confusing, anti-structuralist confusion of randomness come themes of the futility and fascination of the world; fear for the apocalypse; joy of everyday life; social pressures and social happiness. ‘Party Skills For The End Of World’ felt like both a shout of happiness and also a scream of despair.
Party Skills For the End of the World continues to play at Shoreditch Town Hall until the 24th February. For more information and to book tickets visit: https://shoreditchtownhall.com/whats-on/party-skills-for-the-end-of-the-world-2