This new play by Brad Fraser is being performed in rep with Chekhov's The Seagull at Manchester's Royal Exchange. In my humble opinion Cold Meat Party will be talked about as the more successful of the two.
A group of friends (consisting of a gay pop star, a feminist filmmaker and a homophobic politician among others) meet in a Manchester B&B for the funeral of their recently deceased college friend. They gather to discuss their past, but rose-tinted glasses are not supplied, and each of them is forced to face the fact that success has a sell-by date.
On hearing this synopsis, you may imagine some badly written farce where characters are forced together with the sole purpose of milking comedy from the stereotypes on offer. It is a credit, then, to Fraser's laugh-out-loud script - full of contemporary references, ranging from the net to sexuality and fame - that quite the opposite is true. This production is a joy to watch, and the pace never lets up as the menagerie of quirky characters struggle to cope with, not only the death of their friend, but also their own empty lives.
Colin Tierney's Marcus is a performance of great depth. His playing switches from camp to inner torment without once resorting to over-the-top body language. Geraldine Alexander manages to avoid replaying Eddie from Ab Fab and gives her character a strong pulse, particularly in the scenes with her confused daughter Nancy (a confident Emma Lowndes).
Helen Atkinson Wood brings acidic wit ("You're heavier than your j-peg!") as the mystery guest Fritz, while Kellie Bright shines as the down-to-earth, 'seen it all' Northern lass Amanda. Joseph Millson has all the best lines and delivers them with aplomb and expert timing.
It's only Tom Hodgkins who disappoints. Though adequate as the homophobic politician on the surface, he does not fully convey his character's turbulent inner life - and, even worse, he fails to project his voice during the most pivotal speech.
Director Braham Murray resists the urge to direct at a farcical pace and, instead, slows it down during the emotional scenes, allowing the actors to paint vivid pictures via Fraser's text.
Cold Meat Party serves up a hilarious night out and the feeling that a sequel would be more than welcome.