Written in 1990 by Richard Harris, the man behind the Darling Buds of May and Outside Edge, Party Piece is being revived in a regional tour.
Harris’ comedy deals with the often complex relationships between neighbours and families, as well as examining how personality and class differences can exacerbate already tense situations.
George Cole plays the difficult, tricky and often sly elderly father who, with a twinkle in his eye, manipulates and causes rifts between the people around him. Cole’s son, played wonderfully by Peter Amory (of Emmerdale fame), is the upwardly mobile wideboy made good who is more like his mischievous father than he would admit and who visits his father in the terrace house where he grew up. The couple next door are a husband and wife played by Mathew Cole and Finty Williams, who have bought into an area because it is up and coming. This doctor and his wife play a comedy of manners, he an uptight perfectionist and she a nervous apparently frustrated wife in great contrast to their more working class neighbours.
The stage set is clever; it amply illustrates the divide between the two properties as well as the two sets of people, with all the action taking place in the gardens. Cole’s character is enjoying a visit from his son and later his son’s second wife whom he takes great pleasure in tormenting and goading. His garden and house are old and well lived in, as well as run down like the man himself. The couple next door are in the middle of preparations for a house warming party, they have completed lost of renovations and their garden is spotless. The set works in many respects as the venue for an old fashioned farce, with characters coming on and off the stage from a variety of doors. This is especially true, when in the second half the neighbour’s fancy dress party gets underway which results in some disastrous and often cringlingly funny moments.
This play is that odd combination of dark confrontational situations that are also very funny. George Cole is excellent and plays the hub of the trouble, which should not make him endearing but does; his is a character you should not like but cannot help but feel a fondness for.
It is hard to know where the playwright’s sympathies lie for all the characters in one way or another are unpleasant, however it is the cleverness of the writing which means you are constantly having to readjust your perceptions of each character as new information is given to you. While this production will not set the theatrical world on fire it is an entertaining and enjoyable two hours, with actors who are obviously enjoying themselves.