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Laughs come thick and fast in the chaos of government

Updated: May 23

REVIEW: Party Games at New Theatre, Cardiff

A new political comedy takes audiences to the UK of 2026, where a hastily formed centrist One Nation Party has narrowly won a general election, but finds itself facing a hung parliament, street protests, a failing economy, and striking cheese makers. 

This is Party Games, which opened at New Theatre, Cardiff last night (Tuesday 21 May) and which suggests running the country really is as chaotic and haphazard as we might imagine.

Michael McManus's script delivers plenty of laughs - especially in the joyfully silly first half, before the 'plot' takes over after the interval. But the funniest moments are a series of fart gags, which is enough to tell you this lacks the piercing wit of TV's Yes, Minister or The Thick of It.

But there are lots of other jokes - most of them familiar - and they come thick and fast. Some don't land, but never mind - there's another one coming straight after it.

Matthew Cottle steals the show as the new Prime Minister, former Conservative, John Waggner - a brilliant performance as a "posh but popular" Boris Johnson-style figure with no interest in reading paperwork or understanding detail, and dropping into Latin, Greek, or jibberish at every opportunity.

His new recruit is Seth Dickens (Ryan Early), a Dominic Cummings-type spin doctor, who wants to smuggle his right-wing plans into government policy, hidden under an acceptable centrist manifesto.

He moves, wide-stanced, prowling around the bewildered politicians, like some grey hoodie-wearing predator. You almost feel you should 'boo' him like a pantomime villain.

The small cast of characters is completed by the party's deputy leader Lisa Williams (normally played by Debra Stephenson, but with Erica Tavares-Kouassi ably stepping into the role last night), private secretary Candice Edwards (Krissi Bohn), the PM's wife Anne (Natalie Dunn), would-be chief of staff Luke Roberts (Jason Callender), and other characters played by Wiliam Oxborrow.

Set design by Francis O'Connor is outstanding, and overall it's a very entertaining show. It's just not quite funny enough to be a memorable comedy, and it's not quite clever enough to be an insightful satire. Perhaps real-life British politics is just too silly already.

Party Games is directed by Joanna Read and plays at New Theatre until Saturday (25 May). If you're going to tonight's (Wednesday 22 May) performance, you can stay for a free post-show Q&A with playwright Michael McManus. You can find out more and order tickets here or phone the box office on 0343 310 0041.

Review by Andy Weltch

Photos by Craig Fuller

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