THEATRE REVIEW: Dead Party Animals - Hope Theatre

                                                                                             Photo by Christopher Tribble

The premiere of Thomas Pickles’ Dead Party Animals at The Hope Theatre, Islington last week, is best described as an evening of new additions. Not only is The Hope Theatre London’s newest venue committed exclusively to new writing, and not only is this Pickles’ first play, but he is also the winner of the inaugural Adrian Pagan Playwriting award. The primary criteria of this prize is that the entrants be part of the Theatre world, be it as technician, actor, usher or stagehand – just so long as they’re not a writer by trade.

This first winning play then, is a one man show written and performed by Pickles. It follows a group of friends on an evening out, beginning with the boys and girls separately, as each group gets ready for the big night, inevitably colliding unceremoniously in a loud, busy club, sweaty with too many bodies and too much fake tan. The boys trade jokes and bravado whilst the girls slather themselves in make-up and jewellery, dropping ‘babes’ like punctuation. As the night progresses, Pickles’ character starts to lose his grip on reality, and we get the distinct impression, through his razor-sharp blend of dialogue and poetry, that this is down to more than just the drink.

As a performer, Pickles is ludicrously watchable. Every character is expertly brought to life in his homely (to me, at least) East Lancashire accent. Each facial expression and subtle change of voice is faultlessly judged through both Pickles’ own writing and Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s direction. The members of this gang of mates may be vacuous and self-involved, but the performance of the actor portraying them is anything but, his choice of style giving him the freedom of expression to create a crystal clear window into the minds of the group with just a few choice words. It is to his credit that the frequent use of poetry doesn’t jar, as it so easily might have, but allows his dialogue to flow seamlessly from one thumping, drink fuelled scene to the next.

There are moments of brilliance in this production, the subtle tangling of bed sheets around the stage, for one, as it blends the fantastical of the protagonist’s imagination with the reality of the club, and with it the theatre space itself. The sound and use of recognisable lyrics give even the most hardened rejecter of your typical Saturday night hang-out a burst of claustrophobic, thudding bass. You can almost feel the floor sticking to your shoes as you leave, smell the night’s takeaways as you escape into the cold air and feel the hundreds of bumping, grinding bodies. Again, it is to Pickle’s credit that a one man show with no set to speak of manages to be quite so visual.   

The world the visions conjure, however, is a bleak one. The boys spend their time trying to sneak a grope of as many girls as they can, by any means necessary, whilst the girls don’t appear to have a single brain cell to rub between them, interested only in the clothes on their backs and the drinks in their hand. Whilst I have no doubt that this ambition-less, seedy world is exactly the world Pickles wants us to see into, for me it was just a little too empty, a bit too bleak. We’ve all seen this world all too often on the weekend streets of our home-town, and I’m just not sure that for many of us, it’s one we want to willingly spend time in.

The play is a fantastic achievement, and a worthy award winner. For me, however, as with the lives of the characters it paints, there was just a little something missing.

Maybe it was because I didn’t have a drink…


Dead Party Animals will be at The Hope Theatre until 24 May.

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