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A Dinner that left me with indigestion!



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 for help.

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.

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