The Wild Party, The Other Palace, review: ‘Pulsates with feral energy’

Frances Ruffelle in The Wild Party

Frances Ruffelle in The Wild Party - Credit: Archant

While low on plot, the 1927 source, a scandalous poem by Joseph Mclure March, provides the basis of a nuanced look at racial tensions and social aspirations

What’s not to like about a night of ‘gin, skin and fun’? There’s one on offer at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new breeding ground for musicals, currently hosting the UK premiere of Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe’s risqué ‘The Wild Party.’

Directed and choreographed by musical theatre’s new star Drew McOnie, the show’s prohibition era setting and restless, jazzy score pulsate with feral energy. While low on plot, the 1927 source, a scandalous poem by Joseph Mclure March, provides the basis of a nuanced look at racial tensions and social aspirations.

Queenie (Primrose Hill’s Frances Ruffelle), a fading vaudeville actress, is trapped in a toxic relationship with Burrs (John Owen-Jones), a clown with a history of violent entanglements with beautiful blondes.

To inject some spice, they throw one of their legendary parties in their Manhattan apartment. A mish-mash of thrill-seekers turn up including Jewish impresarios Goldberg and Gold lesbian stripper Madelaine, and Queenie’s long-time friend and vaudeville rival Kate (a thrilling ticking time-bomb of a performance by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt).


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Structured around a party with a peremptory dose of early morning comedown, the score is performed superbly by Theo Jamieson’s sassy 8-piece band that sits above an arch of show-time lights.

McOnie embraces the challenge of the dense writing with inventive choreography conveying the continuous whirl of selfish desires, performed with impressive attack by the exceptional cast who occupy every corner of the set’s multiple levels.

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With obvious similarities to Chicago, the pastiche doesn’t preclude some heartfelt numbers. Owen-Jones’ cuckolded Burrs singing ‘How Many Women in the World’ is outstanding and Ruffelle’s smoky vocals flip from brash to yearning as Queenie’s mask slips.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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