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Review: Party Games! (Yvonne Arnaud Theatre)

Updated: May 9

Review by Charlie Balfour


Fresh from the local elections and ahead of an upcoming general election (at some point anyway), a timely reminder of the world of politics begins its life in the premiere of comedy Party Games! Kicking off at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre ahead of a short UK tour, would this be one party where I wish I’d stayed at home instead?


Party Games! is a new in-house production from the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (Sheila’s Island, 2022; Brief Encounter, 2023; Houdini’s Greatest Escape, 2024) written by Michael McManus and directed by Joanna Read.

Beginning in 2026, the newly formed ‘One Nation’ party has won the General Election…well not quite won, but they form a minority government anyway. We are then thrust into Number 10, much like the inexperienced Prime Minister John (Matthew Cottle), and meet other political figures including Deputy Prime Minister Lisa (Debra Stephenson), advisors Candice (Krissi Bohn) and Luke (Jason Callender), John’s wife Anne (Natalie Dunne), Chief Whip (William Oxborrow), and political agitator Seth (Ryan Early). We are also introduced to an Alexa-like device called Medianne (voiced by Debra Stephenson) who listens in on the new Party’s conversations and provides them with more and more censored facts as the play goes on.


The narrative closely reflects the recent political climate in the UK, which could have been a basis of an intriguing and witty play full of “what-if’s”. Disappointingly, this is never quite realised, falling flat in the face of an audience wanting to laugh at our government’s recent decision-making. Characters make reference to many political memes - from Boris Johnson getting stuck on a zipwire, to Liz Truss vs the lettuce, to the PPE contract scandal - which are amusing to remember, but the problem is they tend to end up being throwaway lines that don’t seem particularly relevant to the scene.

At one point we are shown microaggressions regarding a character’s Caribbean heritage and the mispronunciation of her name. Although this is an important topic to tackle, the script doesn’t reflect this as characters don’t acknowledge the weight of their words and the conversation is over before it even begins.


Act two does work slightly better in terms of moving the plot forward, with the firing of one advisor and Medianne refusing to answer certain questions, but I soon found myself alienated by a cheap ‘joke’ about a protester - “the girl, sorry they/them”. Although I may not be the target demographic for this show, I got the feeling that the more mature audience members did not particularly enjoy this comment either. Shouldn’t political comedy be about bashing upwards, not downwards?

Having studied Politics and Economics in the past, I was attracted to the idea of a political comedy-drama, but it feels like a large portion of the script is filled with unnecessary political jargon in an attempt to sell the setting, in turn isolating a fair proportion of the audience. On top of this, despite Party Games! being set in the near future, the majority of what happened seems to be heavily lifted from the last few years, and at times it felt like I was being read a Wikipedia page on British Government scandals rather than watching a plot unfold.


The meaning of the ending feels very open to interpretation and left me wondering if Seth symbolised the rise and fall of populism in British politics, or was perhaps a representation of pro-revolutionary sentiment in the debate between revolution vs evolution. Overall, the similarities to recent politics and politicians are heavy-handed and I found for a show about government, it doesn’t seem to have much of a political message to say. Party Games! could have done so much more but, sadly, this is one party that never gets properly started.

Party Games! is on at the Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford until 11th May and then goes on tour until 29th June. Tickets available at

Photos by Craig Fuller



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