7 October, Hastings Function Centre
Fringe in the ‘Stings 2017
Jacob and I are friends. I’ve played musical statues at his 8th birthday, snuck Midori into his 17th, and shared kind words and tequila shots with him at his 21st. It’s all part of a show, I know, but it feels kind of real.
Such is the genius of Jacob’s Party. From the moment the house lights don’t go down, the accepted social contract of theatre is deconstructed and renegotiated according to Jacob’s (many) rules. The irony being that, in pursuing his stated aim of creating the perfect party in accordance with his extensive research – mostly consisting of watching MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen and hosting terrible parties of his own – he manages to trigger in his audience the same sense of unsureness and social anxiety as his character portrays.
The narrative takes a retrospective trip through Jacob’s life, marked by significant parties of the past, from fun and games at eight, through teenage vomit-fests, postured cocktail soirees gone wrong, and meathead bromances, to rest at a small gathering of genuine friends. It charts his desire for love that the frosted-tipped and emotionally absent Loughlan cannot or will not reciprocate, and the ambivalent feelings that this engenders. He explores complicated relationships with female friends played by unwitting audience members, including myself (Yes. Me. I’m a STAR!); as well as forced friendships with the ‘lads’, for which he dons a Nitro Circus baseball cap and a Tui print shirt (the beer, not the bird) that he cheekily knots above his navel. Resolution comes when he ditches the haters and the fakers for a diminished but dedicated group of faithful companions with whom he drinks very real tequila shots (three in quick succession for him – Jacob knows how to party) and to whom he addresses individual speeches. The latter is the icing on the cake for the subversion of theatrical convention. Using not the frou-frou inventions of the script, but our own names, he makes a public and personalised declaration that blurs the lines between fantasy and truth, highlighting his progression from pretence to authenticity.
The coming of age tale examines self-suppression and the affect that can have on the psyche in a truly novel format. Terse, shaky-voiced, hand-wringing monologues depict Jacob’s social self; nervous, apologetic and desperate for acceptance in a world that seems not to have a space for him. In contrast, his inner self, and the person he has the potential to be, is expressed in dance – a twerking, krumpin, prancing, wop-ing outpouring of repressed feeling. And boy can this boy move. It’s not that he’s technically gifted, although anyone who’s seen him doing the worm can’t dispute that he is. It’s the manic exuberance that he conveys right to the tips of his spaghetti limbs, the gusto with which he lays bare his passion and his frustration, in a way that society and his peers are unable to allow him to voice.
Exemplified by his anger-fuelled mashing of a ripe banana into a rugby ball to the strains of Hollaback Girl, Jake Brown, directed by Michael Trigg, examines the incongruence between patriarchal male culture and the modern gay experience with humour and sensitivity. In doing so they have achieved a near perfect fringe show, and a party that I’d pay to attend again. And I’m not just saying that because I got a shot of tequila and a party bag.