Imagine that you are invited to the ultimate minimalist dinner party where the cuisine is nouvelle, style is everything and content is lacking. That is the feeling that one might have after watching the absurdist Dinner by Moira Buffini and her very capable cast led by the redoubtable, scarlet-clad Harriet Walter.
This West End transfer from the Lyttelton Loft, takes place in Rachel Blues' attractive minimalist dining room accompanied by dissonant music designed to emphasise the eerie.
Egos collide over the sludge-like Primordial Soup, screaming Apocalypse of Lobsters and Frozen Waste when Harriet Walter's haughty Paige invites friends to celebrate the publication of husband Lars' new book on the psychology of living. Nicholas Farrell demonstrates that this is a supercilious man better able to tell the world how to live than to do it himself.
The guests include a horribly ill-matched couple, Adrian Lukis as an insecure scientist married to a frozen TV newsreader (Flora Montgomery) who thaws remarkably quickly. Strangely, the pair bicker through the evening then suddenly refind empathy and love.
Add in Penny Downie as a clichéd earth mother, who worships her host, and a lost van driver who might be a burglar and could symbolise the common man, and you have a recipe for a very edgy dinner party from your worst nightmares.
Dinner is highly stylised with characters used to make points rather than drive plot or follow motivations. It can be funny but too often veers towards the pretentious.
The coup de grace both literally and metaphorically is delivered by a sinister butler in a dramatic device clearly intended to give this dinner party from hell a deeper meaning.
Dinner may be intended as a metaphor for the whole of existence but even with its sometimes poetic and philosophical language it does not succeed either in this vein or as sophisticated comedy.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version
Peter Lathan reviewed the touring production (2004) at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle