The Reunion Party creates the same sense of anxious excitement as a Kazia Ishiguro novel, and does so all the more effectively through its use of such an innovative format: Zoom. The show’s writing and approach, combined with convincing performances all round, make for a tense, gripping and enjoyable performance.
Taking place in real-time over the course of a Zoom party between friends whose dynamic has been disrupted by a mysterious tragedy, The Reunion Party’s plot unfolds through snippets of conversations and private remarks to the audience, who are immersed in the call as additional members in the group’s catch-up call. Comments made in breakout rooms hint at wider narratives, interpersonal relationships and the murky events of the previous Summer, which left one of their number in a coma. This creates a sense of unease and dramatic tension which leaves the viewer eager not only to know more, but to see these characters engage directly.
There’s a Chekhovian deliberateness to everything in the show, which helps it settle into its unusual format. An overly irritated opening remark ostensibly about WiFi troubles, delivered perfectly by Rossana (Lauren Heywood), makes brilliant use of the quirks of the setting to immediately establish her character and foreshadow things to come. Throughout the performance, there is an atmosphere of barely contained frustration and emotion; the building intensity is palpable through the computer screen. Heywood’s performance is just one of many highlights from a brilliant cast that manages to shine, despite the absence of the theatre lights. Claire’s (Sophie Conn) charming if frenetic energy also lights up the performance, and feels all the more convincing confined to a Zoom window. Similarly, Toni’s (Amelia Lloyd) electrifying flash of anger towards the viewer is made that bit richer by her ‘storming out’ of a breakout room.
The dialogue cycles through the lockdown tropes (working from home, Zoom quizzes, and retail therapy), but does so in a way that manages to be relatable without slipping into clichés. It’s quite an achievement, testament to writer and director Declan Kelly, that these manage to feel like an effective counterweight to the main narrative, rather than an unnecessary addition.
The performance centres on serious themes, particularly relating to mental health and manages to do so in a way that affords the topic the gravity it deserves whilst remaining novel in approach. The narrative unfolds on a landscape dominated by struggles with mental health, which is reflected well by the characters individually, but the show crucially touches on the far less commonly explored ground of the impact of a crisis on the group itself.
This exploration of the cumulative impact of a tragedy on the relationships that existed before it happened is where the show shines. Group dynamics are difficult to bring to life, but Reunion Party has done it magnificently. The fault lines in a once functioning friendship group are brought to the fore, and tensions between those who are “moving on” and those who are not are exposed as the group realise they cannot skirt around these fundamental differences forever.
The Reunion Party is, in keeping with LUU Theatre Group tradition, a conceptually interesting piece of theatre. The cast and crew did more than make do with what they could as a result of lockdown: they thrived within their constraints and put the tools at their disposal to new and inventive use. The result is a brilliant show.
Words by Charley Weldrick.
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.