Dinner - Review

Having watched Moira Buffini’s intriguing black comedy I think that I will be declining invitations to dinner parties for a little while.

For her work depicts the dinner party from Hell with a hostess that goes to great pains to ensure success – that is with the pains being inflicted upon her guests.

Imagine a Gothic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Think Abigail’s Party set amongst an intellectual and upper class background with the humiliation and verbal sniping racked up a few gears and you will get some idea of the fare on offer.

And what fare did our hostess have to offer her guests – Primordial Soup made from seaweed with yeast to keep it alive so that it could breed. It had been simmering for three weeks! Lobster Apocalypse with the crustaceans alive for the guests to act as God and decide whether to plunge them into boiling water or to release them into the garden pond. The lobsters almost stole the show. Through clever simulation they silently twitched on the plates.
Frozen Waste, a just dessert comprising items scavenged from the refuse bin, completed her menu.

This study of a disintegrated marriage and revenge may seem tough to digest but it was not. There was plenty of humour to make it palatable as well as strong performances from the entire cast.

As Paige, the hostess, Eleanor Gamper gripped from the off – dressed in shimmering black with a feathery headdress, suggestive of antennae, she was like a predatory insect. Her wild and staring eyes resembled those of a creature hypnotising their prey. Her performance as a woman driven by despair to such bizarre action was finely balanced. She deftly trod a delicate line, never going too far over the top.

Alistair Lock brought out the weakness of Lars, her husband - full of philosophical advice for others about achieving their goals but unable to confront his wife with plans to leave her.

There were times at the beginning of the play when it was difficult to hear some of Gayle Dudley’s softly spoken words, a problem arising from being seated at the dinner table with her back to me. That apart Gayle built up a nicely observed performance as Wynne, the naïve, vegetable loving disciple and lover of Lars. Her performance produced many of the play’s laughs.

Completing the invited guests were Hal, an old friend of Lars, and his new wife, Sian. The underlying brittleness and fragility of their relationship was brought out well by Bob Gilcrest and Kirsty Harbron.

There was one uninvited guest whose presence stirred up a few prejudices. David Williams played Mike with a good sense of comic timing.

As the hired waiter with a hidden agenda Ben Fearnside was suitable sinister. Required to remain silent throughout the action he only had one line to say at the end. Sadly, soft delivery prevented me from hearing it.

It was hard to find fault with the assured direction from Carl Boardman apart from a couple of minor quibbles. Bearing in mind that most of the action required the cast to be seated at the table, the use of the tall vase and flowers in the centre of it proved to be an irritant. It blocked the faces of the actors on the other side of the table, causing them to have to peer round the vase. One hopes that it was changed for subsequent performances.

The other problem was caused by having a slightly raised acting area that was not quite big enough for the action. There were times when actors had to squeeze past chairs rather than stepping off that area.

That said this quality production was another illustration of the high standard that the NV sets itself.

Barrie Jerram