Review by David Munro
DINNER comes to Richmond from the National Theatre,
via Wyndhams, wrapped in rapturous reviews and acclaim.
Richmond, however, does not see the original cast, but a replacement
one, headed by Stephanie Beacham, with only one member of the
original cast, Liam Smith, remaining.
One, therefore, must savour, (to pick up the prandial metaphor),
what is put in front of you and try to ignore what has gone before.
The play, as such, concerns a dinner party given by a wife, Stephanie
Beacham, to celebrate the publication of her husband’s book,
which she admits she hasn’t read, as she is waiting for
it to come out in paperback. One feels from what ensues that she
won’t have missed much.
The guests are a scientist, Hal (Crispin Redman); his wife,
a TV personality played by a TV personality (Gaby Roslin), and
an idiosyncratic artist, Wynne (Louise Jameson), who is, it transpires,
an old lover of the husband, Lars (Patrick Ryecart).
The fourth guest, Wynne’s husband, does not come as he
has left her, but his empty place is soon filled by a young man
who has crashed his van into the garden gate and wishes to telephone
There is the usual dramatic device, beloved by bad dramatists
of the thirties, a thick fog outside, which compels the guests
to remain despite whatever occurs.
What occurs is a meal from hell comprising of inedible food,
accompanied by a cascade of bitchery and innuendo from the hostess,
and ill-concealed contempt and bad manners from the guests.
A lot of this is very funny, indeed, and, as the play is a one-acter,
the audience doesn’t have time to assess too critically
what is happening on stage, which, to my mind, is just as well.
I, for one, came away at the fall of the curtain with a distinct
air of unease from the meal that had been served up.
Partly, I think, this was because both Crispin Redman and Gaby
Roslin tended to eat their words (oops! these puns are catching)
and it was very difficult, at times, to figure out exactly what
point they were trying to put across apart from bad temper - an
emotion which, if accompanied by bad acting, tends to be tedious
(I nearly wrote unpalatable!).
It soon became apparent that the wife’s intention behind
serving up an eccentrically disgusting meal was to humiliate her
husband, but, as played by Patrick Rycraft, he appeared such a
boor anyway, one wondered why she bothered.
To explore the intricacies of the
plot further would give away the denouement and spoil any pleasure
that might be culled from the evening.
There is, despite the flaws in the acting, a lot of amusement
and gratification to be gained from watching a dinner party self
destruct before ones eyes, even if only from a 'there but for
the grace of God…' point of view.
Whether it makes a play or an evening's entertaiment depends
on whether one can accept the author, Moira Buffini’s, resolution
of her plot, and this is where the doubt crept into my mind.
I could see what the point was that she was trying to make in
setting her characters and scene but, at the end of the day (or
the dinner), I was not convinced she had succeeded, despite whatever
enjoyment I had garnered from her efforts.
There was an air of ambiguity which hung over the evening’s
events which was never quite dispelled. Was Mike (Liam Smith),
a burglar or just an oaf who wanted to bite the hands that fed
him by embarrassing his enforced hosts?
Were Gaby Roslin and her husband really at loggerheads, or was
this really some perverted type of sex play?
These and other questions remained unresolved when the curtain
fell, but then, perhaps, am I giving too much weight to what may
have been intended merely to be a jeu d’esprit?
The fact I have these doubts must, I think, be partly the fault
of the director, Fiona Buffini, the author’s sister.
Clearly, the reception which the play has received hitherto
must indicate that I am alone in having these feelings of dissatisfaction;
so has she failed to rehearse her touring cast sufficiently to
dispel them, or is it that the touring cast does not play together
as well as the original one?
I am forced, I am afraid, to the latter conclusion.
Apart from Louise Jameson, as the one who tried to pour oil
on troubled waters and succeeded in convincing me with her character
and immense acting prowess, all the rest of the cast I found wanting.
This is not to say that they acted badly, merely they did not
act well enough.
Perhaps as the tour progresses they will pull together more as
a team, and the play will be the enormous pleasure it obviously
has been in the past.
But I have to speak as I find, and I am afraid this dinner gave
me mild indigestion rather that a feeling of satiation and goodwill.
Dinner, by Moira Buffin. Director, Fiona Buffini; Designer,
Rachel Blues; Lighting, Mark Henderson; Sound, Rich Walsh; Fight
Director, Malcolm Ranson.
WITH: Stephanie Beacham; Gaby Roslin; Louise Jameson; Patrick
Ryecart; Crispin Redman; Liam Smith; Mark Hayford.
Producers, Michael Codron, Lee Dean and JC Nederlander.
Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey.
Mon, July 12 - Sat, July 17, 2004. Evenings: Mon – Sat:
7.45pm; Mat: Wed & Sat: 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088.