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Party Baggage review (Drayton Arms Theatre)

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Shaun Nolan’s newly formed production company ‘Pickled Donkey’ have recently produced their debut play at the Kensington-based Drayton Arms Theatre. It is not Shaun’s first writing endeavour, making his debut at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe with ‘Paper Dolls’, but it is the first time he is writing for his own company, after many in-person and digital projects. Based at the London Fringe venue above the Drayton Arms pub over the bank holiday weekend, the 90-minute new comedy ‘Party Baggage’ is about two long-term friends whose lives have been turned upside down by an unplanned pregnancy and a shared partner.

Party Baggage leaflet outside The Drayton Arms Theatre, London


‘Party Baggage’ centres on two friends, Fin (Shaun Nolan) and Nat (Sharina-Mai Bruno) who have known each other for years, but their friendship has been rocky as of late. Nat is pregnant with Fin’s ex-boyfriend’s child and whilst Fin and Andrew had broken up sometime before, tensions are high between the friends. In what feels akin to a public therapy session, where the audience are the counsellor, Fin reflects on how his best friend is about to embark on motherhood and Nat looks back on her own childhood, recounting events where her mother showed no interest in raising her.

Standout moments

Whilst the story primarily focuses on the breakdown of a friendship, a highlight is Fin’s personal monologue where he talks about being a gay man and coming to terms with not being able to biologically have a child with a future partner. Having to consider adoption or surrogacy, this particular scene can be interpreted as the character’s chance to grieve, in and amongst the excitement of Nat’s news. It’s the first time that I have seen such a topic covered using the medium of theatre, and provides some much appreciated reality and personal perspective in a joke and jibe-filled comedy. I would have liked this theme to have had a greater weight in the overall narrative, as it taps into a deeply personal topic that would resonate with so many people.

Shaun Nolan in Party Baggage at The Drayton Arms Theatre, London
© Pickled Donkey / Shaun Nolan

The segments where Nat talks about the disappointment of her mother not showing up are another standout moment, with Sharina-Mai really highlighting the character’s personal pain and torment. You leave the theatre thinking how awful Nat’s mother is and wanting to support her on her journey into motherhood.

Party-themed staging

The set design is incredibly vibrant, reflecting the celebratory themes of the piece that are present at face value. The foil curtain, balloons and celebratory props are extremely colourful, brightening up the Drayton Arms stage. In terms of visual design, stylistically the decision to dress Fin and Nat in black provides visual contrast on stage, accurately representing how they are both feeling at what should usually be such a happy time. 

Party Baggage set at The Drayton Arms Theatre, London

A totally believable friendship (and fall out)

Shaun and Sharina-Mai have worked on projects together previously and this shines through in their completely natural connection on stage. They manage to perfectly encapsulate the sarcasm of the long-term friendship and also include a subtle amount of bitterness to cover the strain that Nat’s pregnancy has had on their relationship. There are also moments of jealousy in the dialogue, with both actors including a realistic amount of passive aggressiveness for the situation. Overall it is brilliantly acted by the pair.

Shaun Nolan and Sharina-Mai Bruno in Party Baggage at The Drayton Arms Theatre, London
© Pickled Donkey / Shaun Nolan

Structure, narrative and timeline

The structure and disconnected depiction of past and present events lets the production down, making the narrative feel quite modular. Without giving away spoilers, in places it is a little difficult to follow where we are within the story, with regard to time, but fortunately this is cleared up in the latter scenes. There is also a childhood segment where we are introduced to a young Fin and Nat and whilst it does provide insight into their upbringings, the placement and timing of the scene feels a little off and unnecessary.

Additionally, the introduction of a therapist-like voiceover where the characters are asked questions is not consistently used throughout the narrative, which left me wishing that it was either used more extensively or not at all. Greater clarity in how this is adopted would make the group therapy format more comprehensible.

Shaun Nolan and Sharina-Mai Bruno in Party Baggage at The Drayton Arms Theatre, London
© Pickled Donkey / Shaun Nolan

An exciting debut from Pickled Donkey

Party Baggage has so much promise, with its superb acting and believable depiction of friendship and fall outs. With some development to the structure, this could be a really amusing and relatable piece of theatre. I look forward to seeing what Pickled Donkey produce next in their debut year. You can find out more about the company’s work via their social media.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for Party Baggage was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.



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