Fringe Box



Stage Dragon: Party Games! – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 9 May, 2024
Updated on: 15 May, 2024

By Ferenc Hepp

The premiere production of Party Games! at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre this week is an original production written by Michael McManus, whose last work (Maggie & Ted) was seen at this venue in 2021.

Party Games!

This play is a result of two years’ worth of work, directed by the Arnaud’s own director and chief executive, Joanna Read.

McManus ran Edward Heath’s private office in the late 1990s and worked alongside other famous figures, such as Margaret Thatcher, and is therefore equipped with plenty of inside knowledge about the workings of the government and politicians.

Party Games! Matthew Cottle and Natalie Dunne. Picture: Craig Fuller.

We are in 2026 and the One Nation party emerges victorious but without a clear majority. John (Matthew Cottle) becomes prime minister, but he is clearly not equipped for the role, and we immediately see a very close comparison to the classic Yes, Prime Minister TV sitcom from the 1980s.

However, instead of a number of different situations with hilarious dialogue, the whole script seems to be just his team offering him advice about what to do and what not to do.

Party Games! Ryan Early and William Oxborrow. Picture: Craig Fuller.

One of Cottle’s memorable lines at the start of this journey includes: “I propose a policy of no more policies”, however, we need a lot more of these clever, funny one-liners, but they simply don’t materialise.

The new PM’s team are never properly introduced, but the cast include Ryan Early as Seth, Debra Stevenson as Lisa, Krissi Bohn as Candice, Jason Callender as Luke, Natalie Dunne as Anne and William Oxborrow as the Chief Whip.

Early is the most animated among them all, but his distracting physical mannerisms detract from the dialogue rather than enhancing his character.

Bohn is gifted with the best characterisation from the group, you can clearly tell her thought processes and frustrations with the new prime minister.

Oxborrow plays numerous roles, my favourite being the leader of the Scottish National Party, which is rather topical at the moment.

Party Games! Matthew Cottle and Debra Stephenson. Picture: Craig Fuller.

There is some enjoyable humour in the scene between him and Cottle. However, generally the PM’s team have not got distinctive enough characters, and the scenes are very repetitive.

This whole play could have been just one scene from Yes, Prime Minister. Even some of the lines used are very similar to the sitcom.

The dialogue is rushed, not giving us the opportunity to digest what has been said before moving onto the next bit of the conversation.

There is more drama after the interval, with a rather unusual ending, which is linked to a pet tarantula in a rather bizarre way, but this does not save the production, with a script that needs considerable improvement to be a funny political comedy / farce.

The closest we come to a farce is the use of a number of doors on stage.

The grey colour scheme of the set, resembling the Union Jack is well designed by Francis O’Connor and looks good on the Arnaud stage, but the reaction from the audience was lukewarm rather than animated.

I spotted several people with their heads in their hands and looking bored, and the applause at the curtain call was far from enthusiastic.

Party Games! Debra Stephenson.

Party Games! has potential but not in its current form. I overheard one exiting audience member commenting that the second act was childish.

The writer’s notes suggest that “on the journey, every single member of the audience will find someone with whom they sympathise,”… sadly, not this member of the audience on this occasion.

Party Games! runs until Saturday, May 11 and tickets are available via or 01483 440000.

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