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Venue: The Drama Barn
Dinner is not a cosy play; rather, it lacerates. Focusing on a varied bunch of well-to-do dinner guests, playwright Moiri Buffini set out to reveal how little it takes for undercurrents of nastiness to toxically bubble up to the surface. The play begins with promise. The hostess, Paige, (played by Bethany Hughes with poise and icy authority) is a bitch par excellence, full of acidic, withering snipes and clearly has a devious, loaded reason for bringing these various characters together. And what characters they are.
Lars, Paige's husband, is puffed up and glistening with self-satisfaction, as he would be given that the dinner is in honour of his bestselling book of pop-philosophy. Harry Elletson manages to capture the intellectual braggadocio of a man whose philosophical 'wisdom' effectively revolves around the idea of doing whatever the hell you like. Wynne, the batty artist who's valiantly digesting the shock of her breakup with her MP husband, is a lot of fun. Ruth Comerford really got into the role, gambolling around and giving the play a much needed dose of good-natured kookiness. To complete this tableau of metropolitan affluence, is Hal, an eminent if rather ridiculous microbiologist, played with enthusiasm and occasional glee by Marcus Crabb, and Sian, his younger, truculent 'newsbabe' wife, with Jessy Roberts deftly capturing the cool distaste that disguises her emotional inner turmoil.
With one empty chair at the table, (thanks to Wynne's philandering husband), it's not long before it's filled. The introduction of Mike, the ordinary bloke whose van crashes and needs to use the phone, is clearly a set-piece, intended by Buffini to reveal the vacuousness of the diners. And it worked. Dominic Gould handled the role well, adding some calm and seasoned timing to proceedings. But this in turn highlighted the fact that the other characters couldn't help but stray into caricature territory. And this my the ultimate issue with the production: a lack of real nuance. Exchanges crackled, but it felt as if the weight of the play was cast aside for the humour, and as such the savage end, intended to shock and induce some thought, just fell a little flat. For a play that pertained to be full of philosophical depth, we merely paddled in the shallows.
The nuances, intimations, subtleties, undercurrents - call it what you will, but really recognising these would have made the production soar. Instead, we got a series of events, dark humoured farce with some marvellously entertaining moments but no real sense of fluidity and balance. Effectively, the real issue was one of staging. The decision to go for a traverse stage, with seating on either side, diluted the performance. While it's a reliable, go-to arrangement for pumping up the intimacy, in this production it meant that much of the action was obscured. It doesn't take much to correctly assume that in a play called Dinner, events unfold around a dining table. However, this seemingly simple staging is, in fact, rife with difficulties. Ensuring that all the audience members get a balanced view of all the characters was impossible with this particular stage layout. It felt as if blocking had hardly been considered, and it would have been good to feel director, Sebastian Romaniuk's, influence more clearly.
Dinner had style and plenty of laughs. It was undeniably enjoyable but not particularly substantial; my appetite was piqued but ultimately I wasn't left feeling blissfully well-fed.