Dinner*** (Baron’s Court Theatre, 2 April 2013)

Posted: April 3, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Well we’ve all been there haven’t we? The dinner party from Hell! This revival of Moira Buffini’s black comedy, first seen at the National in 2002, allows us to squirm in horror at the ghastly food and even more ghastly conversation whilst staying sufficiently removed so as not have to experience it all directly; not too far removed though, as, in this small basement space, the audience is almost sitting around the table with the guests. The hostess is Paige who went to finishing school, pocketed an inheritance, married and thereafter has done nothing worthwhile; she describes the dinner party as her work of art and she presents herself like a cross between Nigella Lawson and Cruella de Vil. She is throwing the party for the friends of her husband Lars, a City trader turned philosopher, to celebrate the publication of his book, a pretentious self-help guide for the aspirational. In reality, the party is Paige’s last throw of the dice in a rapidly failing marriage, but a waiter (dumb obviously) has been hired and “surprise” dishes have been prepared for each course, so what could go wrong? The first sign of disaster is the arrival, unexpectedly alone, of Wynne, an artist who has just been dumped by her partner. She seems set on rekindling her past relationship with Lars and he is disinclined to resist. The other invited guests are Hal, a biochemist reluctant to reveal details of his work and his wife, Sian, a tv news presenter (or, as she contemptuously boasts, “thinking man’s crumpet”); this couple is also beset by marital difficulties and haunted by the spectre of Hal’s suicidal former partner. In the early stages, the hosts and all the guests talk pseudo-intellectual claptrap which is understood neither by the speaker nor the listeners, whilst they consume sufficient alcohol for us to know that they will regret it later. Gradually, both the party and the central relationships begin to fall apart. The catalyst comes with the arrival of Mike, a van driver who has crashed into the front gate in the fog. Has he just burgled the house next door or is he merely delivering cakes? We are never sure. However, he is different because he is perceived as from a lower level of society. In return, he looks at the others firstly with envy and eventually with disdain as he comes to see the superficiality of their lives. Wynne makes the hollow protest that something vague in her past makes her “almost working class”, the others view Mike as an amusing novelty. It is in this section that the play has its clearest focus, as it scrutinises the class structure of the post-yuppy generation and wittily lays bare many myths. The first production by the newly-formed Rose Bridge Theatre Company, this is an ensemble piece featuring actors who are all relatively new to their profession and they attack their roles with clear enthusiasm. They are Benedict Chambers, Lara Frances, Stephanie Hampton, Mickey Hope, Ben Lewis, Felicity McCormack and James McGregor. Adam Morris’s direction is fluid, making excellent use of the confined space. The script is packed with very funny lines, but the play covers what has become familiar territory in the decade or so since it was written and, for this reason, it may have lost some of its edge. The characters come across as more stereotypical and the situations more predictable now than perhaps they did in 2002 and the conclusion which, as Paige bemoans, comes before the cheeseboard, seems contrived and lacking in purpose. However, this is an entertaining 90 minutes, a night out that is much preferable to attending one of these events for real.

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