The Other Palace hasn't changed all that much since its days as the St James Theatre. Now owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber as part of his Really Useful Theatres group, his plan is to turn The Other Palace into a haven for new work, where writers and directors can test and refine - before, presumedly, a successful production will transfer to the bigger West End stages.
The Wild Party opens the new theatre and whilst it's not exactly a daring choice in line with this new agenda - it's an established musical whose Broadway debut was nominated for a number of Tony's back in 2000 - it's certainly a provocative production. Directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, it's a show that drips with sex appeal, its slinky cast writhing across the stage on just the right side of hedonistic debauchery.
Based on the 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March (and not to be confused with the Andrew Lippa penned musical of the same name based on the same source material), it depicts a particularly wild night hosted by vaudeville performers Queenie (Frances Ruffelle) and Burrs (John Owen-Jones). Theirs is a fiery love/hate relationship of lust, infidelity and violence. Throw in some bathtub gin, cocaine, and thirteen sexually liberal guests and carnage is bound to ensue.
The musical is artfully constructed as a series of individual vaudeville sketches, LaChiusa's music pastiching a variety of jazz styles with a modern twist and plenty of dissonance and chromaticism to match the sexual characterisation. There's even a certain air of Sondheim with its storytelling through music, spoken word rhythms and overlapping vocal lines. Each vignette recounts the personal tales of the fascinatingly dark characters, touching on sexual promiscuity, drug abuse, violence and paedophilia. Together they don't quite add up to an overarching, convincing narrative.
That's because the plot's success rests on the love triangle at the centre of it all between Queenie, Burrs and party guest Black (Simon Thomas) who comes as the date of Queenie's friend Kate (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt). Yet despite some show-stopping numbers from Owen-Jones as Burrs, this triangle is predictable and fails to compel. It's the periphery characters who prove the more intriguing.
They include some delicious performances. Hamilton-Barritt is on fiery form here, her gritty vocals whipping up a storm. Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynca are eminently watchable as the D'Armano brothers, forever in sync with their cool stylish movements, whilst Melanie Bright is an ethereal presence as the drug-addled Sally and Donna McKechnie owns the stage as the fading Dolores Montoya.
McOnie's direction just about keeps control of the often frantic chaos, with plenty of small touches on the periphery of the action as well as delivering an overall stylish and polished production. It's a strong start for The Other Palace - let's hope the wildness continues.
Watch: The Wild Party runs until 1st April.
Photos: Scott Rylander