Party Scene: The buzz and burn-out of drug-enhanced sexual encounters

Review: Philip Connaughton and Phillip McMahon have collaborated on this Thisispopbaby production

Party Scene: Chem Sex, Community and Crisis

Space Upstairs, Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Rating: 4/5

“Hi,” a young man says with a knowing smile. “Come on in. We’re having a party.” Making eye contact with the audience, his words are both an invitation and a provocation to enter his world, a world where desire and pleasure are celebrated for their own sake, a world where there is no shame in sexual preference.

Party Scene, a Thisispopbaby collaboration between the choreographer Philip Connaughton and the writer and director Phillip McMahon that premiered at Cork Midsummer Festival and is now at Project in Dublin, is interested less in representation than in capturing a feeling: the buzz and the burn-out of drug-enhanced sexual encounters. The audience is seated on three sides for greater inclusivity, which Connaughton’s choreography exploits, allowing the performers to connect with the audience from a variety of positions on stage.

The dance routines draw from a clubbing and contemporary-dance register, with physical gestures that range from the strikingly precise to the energetically unwieldy as the mood swings from anticipation to excess. In one of the most striking and effective scenes, however, there is barely any movement: the four performers pile on top of each other and reconfigure themselves, their faces lit by the white glow of their mobile phones, as they dispassionately watch porn.

Recorded voice notes provide a concrete anchor from which the audience can extrapolate broader notes of concern: friends checking in with friends, family members checking up on their loved ones. But the overarching feeling is one of isolation: a lone figure rolls around hysterically in a mess of discarded clothes, a body lies face down being frisked for cash, a disoriented, hungover reveller wonders whether he had sex with someone the night before—“something bad happened”.

The performers Anderson de Souza, Liam Bixby, Ryan O’Neill and Matthew Morris—a welcomely age-diverse group—maintain a physical and emotional strength and vulnerability throughout, all the while giving a knowing wink and nod to the audience.

Ellen Kirk’s set has a warehouse feel, with an LED proscenium marking out a frame for the stage. Frank Sweeney’s pumping sound design thumps with contemporary cool and up-to-the-minute retro samples, including Kate Bush. The lighting design, by Sarah Jane Shiels and Suzie Cummins, plays a key role in shaping the choreography, particularly towards the end of the piece, when the shadows against the back wall of the Space Upstairs show the lurking danger behind the joyous routine being played out upstage. The dual meaning in this image echoes the resounding phrase that one of the men uses in his confused confession, a phrase that perfectly sums up the theme of Party Scene too: “fun disaster”.

Party Scene continues at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, until Saturday, July 2nd