The Safari Party

Premiering last year at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph theatre, Tim Firth's comedy is the first large-scale production to open at the new Hampstead Theatre. Designed to foster the same intimacy that was so successful at its Portakabin predecessor whilst accommodating larger audiences, the new theatre's suave, elliptic shape is certainly striking. Which is why one can't help wishing something more substantial had been chosen rather than this slight comedy. Yes, it does gain momentum with each act and possesses a quirky, endearing finale but nonetheless it's not as accomplished as one might expect from Firth who's riding high after the recent Laurence Olivier award for musical Our House.

Divided into three acts that neatly echo the three dinner courses being held at the eponymous party of the title, the play opens as brothers Daniel and Adam are gingerly hosting hors d'oeuvres for their Cheshire neighbours, each family providing a different course. Deprived of a table and at the mercy of meagre resources and native ingenuity the brothers begin to concoct colourful tales of local folklore that, in typically comic tradition, soon spiral dangerously out of control, eventually engulfing the whole evening. The wheel begins to come full circle in Act Two as the main course is served on the very table Daniel has sold to bolster the brothers income; soon the invention of tabletop golf takes on a life all its own and by the time dessert's due at the home of Inga, a local antique dealer, total chaos has prevailed.

The collision between urban and rural lives lies at the heart of the play as the countryside is either romanticised by a character like Christine Moore's bewildered Esther or exploited for its financial potential. An exuberant cast, directed by Alan Ayckbourn and featuring excellent performances from Daniel Casey's anxious Daniel and Amanda Abbington's Bridget, can't mask the feeling of essentially thin material overstretched.

(Amanda Hodges)

Notices from the popular press....

NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Modestly humourous, farcical comedy." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Spasmodically funny rather than bone-achingly hilarious."CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Cunningly constructed, thematically rich, and above all blissfully funny." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "An amusing, undemanding evening."

External links to full reviews from newspapers

The Guardian
The Times

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