Growing up in the Sydney private school system, where everybody was so bored with privilege that we were desperate for any drama to Degrassi up our otherwise vanilla, knee-high-sock lives, we thought house parties were the answer. If we were regular high school students by day, by night we were D&Ming, never-have-I-evering machines. Looking back, these things may have been inevitable, not just due to alcohol, but also to the sheer density of emotion and perspectives physically trapped in such a finite space. Directors Nicky Cayless and Charlie O’Grady use this to great advantage in constructing the intensely immersive world of SUDS’ House Party.
House Party takes the form of a 22nd celebration at which the audience (and actors) are guests. The presumed axioms of theatre are cast aside as, rather than sit in a bank and watch the show, the audience is left free to wander around and interact with the actors—and each other—however they please. There is no script, there are no restrictions on how events need to play out, there is only an impressive amount of character and relationship work and what happens at the party. Like most parties the result is climactic, and serves as its justification to be considered theatre, not just “drinks in the cellar”.
At all points, however, the evolution of events feels organic to the evening, and this is the production’s greatest merit. Whilst some goal points clearly exist and clear, preexisting conflicts between characters, it is through interaction with audience members that these tensions grow to a point. I felt throughout the show that the audience’s behaviour directly affected the actors and mood around me, and whilst we perhaps couldn’t change the destination, the actors drew on us as the fuel to reach it.
Like a good BBQ (sequel?) there were plenty of chops on offer from the ensemble cast (Elliott Miller, Jenna Owen, Maddie Houlbrook-Walk, Maddie Parker, Michael Cameron, Monisha Rudhran, Nick Welsh, and Reuben Ward) who showed great skill in both traditional character based performance and improvisation.One friend of mine who didn’t know any of the actors noted that she was often unable to discern who was an actor and who was an audience member. This itself touches on one of the more interesting questions raised by House Party, as the line between performance and reality is blurred. Due to the pressure inherent to such social situations, I was at times less capable at being myself than actors were at being their constructed characters. That, coupled with the palpable awkwardness which emerged throughout the evening, elucidates the performances we all undergo in such intensely social situations. The audience were unwittingly performing too, but ironically with less rehearsal time.
My only note for the show would be that it at times seemed to pursue its prepared tensions too doggedly, rather than leaving room to explore previous unknown emerging tensions, but I feel like this may have been symptomatic of an opening night show, and I fully expect the cast to relax into a more open spectrum of narrative. Ultimately, this show is going to be different every night, and it makes me want to go back—I don’t just want to watch it again, I want to play it again. At times aspects of the actors shone through, or physicality seemed unnatural in heightened moments, but these details are superfluous to what makes the show as wonderful as it is. Cayless and O’Grady set out to create an immersive, interactive piece of theatre which uses the intense dynamic of a House Party to heighten a theatrical end and they did so successfully, with a fantastic cast.
See this show, be a part of it, it’s not like any other show (or party) you’ll attend this year.