Safari Party — The Brewery Theatre Company

Reviewed by Kev McVeigh

The dinner party/drawing room scenario has long been a staple of English comic drama. Tim Firth’s Safari Party sits firmly in that tradition of alan Ayckbourne with echoes too of Mike Leigh in its untangling of complex webs of secrets and social manoeuvrings.

A Safari party is a twist on the dinner party where each course is served by a different host in a different house. In this case brothers Adam and Daniel do starters, businessman Lol and wife Esther the mains, and desserts are to come from antiques dealer Inga. The fly in the ointment is Lol and Esther’s daughter Bridget.

Safari Party is a farce, and as such its plot doesn’t stand up to close inspection. Basically Daniel sold a table to Inga after making an outrageous claim about its provenance, Inga it transpires then sold the table to Esther and Lol for a huge mark up with an even more ludicrous story of its origins. Suspension of disbelief is aided by vivid, multi-faceted characters, brought to life by six strong performances.

Bridget first off cuts through the pretensions with a savage wit that belies her chav-esque demeanor. Amy Forrest gives a tremendously visceral performance to her role. In contrast Arthur Perie as Adam is frequently understated, creating comic timing through facial expressions and posture. Both characters, probably more than any of the others, undertake an emotional journey in the place. Adam’s financial greed (he’s hosting the party to gain Lol’s business) becomes a solidity when all falls apart, Bridget the bitch shows a vulnerability that then becomes her strength.

Denis Bland’s portrayal of materialistic salesman Lol owes something to John Challis’ Boycie in Only Fools & Horses (himself a stock farce character) but incorporates what i want to call paradoxically a fluid stiffness. (Lol is stiff but Bland’s use of his body to show this is fluid.) Naive, pretentious Esther asserts herself magnificently in the climax, thanks to Lynne Gibbons warmth. And Inga, crucial yet in stage time the lesser character, as portrayed by Eileen Nichols, is the vital foil to both Lol and Esther and conduit for most of the revelations to come.
Most of these revelations, as expected in a plot like this, are clearly signposted, though there is at least one genuine surprise. What makes it work is the timing and delivery of the best lines, the genuine rapport amongst the cast, and the acting qualities on stage. Highlighting this, Neil McKnight as Dan delivers the pay-off line with a rich aplomb that gives the ending a warm glow and generated roars of laughter all around the Brewery Theatre.
Indeed laughter all night was the order of the day, and credit goes to all involved for that.

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