Office Party

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

The adverts for Office Party that have sprung up on London’s Tube network seem a little coy about what it actually entails -– and understandably so, as they surely wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. Yet to get the best out of this performance oddity, you really need to know something of its ethos.

Created by cabaret star Ursula Martinez and Christopher Green, the comedian behind Tina C and Ida Barr, this is part variety show, part actual office party, and part massive improv game which asks the entire audience to play along.

On arrival at the Product Services head offices, an anonymous unit next to the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, you pick up your name tag that identifies you with your departmental colleagues – whether it be creative, corporate and social responsibility, marketing or whatever – then it’s off to a team briefing before the festivities can begin.

The main event involves some external entertainers, while the heads of department also do a turn or two. But be in not doubt that it is also actually a party, and between the acts you might as well be in a nightclub as the booze flows and cheesy music fills the air.

Like any such event, some of the revellers throw themselves into it, while others stand reluctantly around the dancefloor making small talk. To help break the ice, Janice Connolly, the creator of comedy circuit favourite Mrs Barbara Nice, leads a couple of silly party games, with her usual unaffectedly cheery enthusiasm.

Green and Martinez provide a couple of the variety-show interludes, with song and dance and Green unleashing his inner Eurovision wannabe in the guise of that old comedy fall-back, the motivational speaker. There’s not much more to this character than cheap wordplay and a naff, bouncy soundtrack, but that’s very much in the spirit of the night.

Stand-up Richard Rycroft is definitely chief executive material, looking and sounding every inch the arrogant, comfortably-upholstered corporate devotee whose only concern is the bottom line. Other faces from the comedy world include Anil Desai, as the usually staid head of accounts who takes to partying like bankers take to bonuses; and Holly Burn as the scatty head of human resources.

Real office parties can, of course, release a year’s worth of pent-up tension and lust in a cauldron of alcohol-fuelled indiscretion, and this one is no exception. There a surprises throughout the evening, and when events come to an explosive head, it ensures there will be regrets among the hangovers in the morning.

It’s all very well done, but hard to review as if it were a show like any other, as Office Party is certainly not a night for those seeking a passive night at the theatre or the comedy. If it were, you might complain that it takes a simplistic approach to situations and characters. But in this context, that’s irrelevant.

There is a perfect audience for this show, which started life in the Barbican four years ago, and its those in small departments or companies whose Christmas festivities might otherwise be a few quiet drinks with the same old faces. This ticket gets you a party, complete with ribald entertainment custom-made for the occasion, in contrast to, say, a chain comedy club where the stand-up isn’t so obviously compatible with groups out on the festive lash.

Review date: 14 Oct 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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