Moira Buffini
New Theatre, Cardiff

Stephanie Beacham in Dinner

What does a confident middle class female do when she's frustrated, angry and wants to make a violent statement? She invites her friends to dinner, of course.

Naturally, a woman who is hell bent on playing games and all sorts of trickery is going to make the meal fairly interesting in a funny sort of way.

The set for this play was simply a long serpentine shaped table with curved back drop that looked like a picture of outer space. This was a setting for the Last Supper, circa 2004.

So, is that it? Is this supposed to be a black morality play set somewhere out there in the ether…purgatory?

There was certainly a reference to the black hole that civilisation is sucking itself into.

After a few minutes of action I realised that this was not a dinner party I would like to have attended. I was searching for a character to feel some sort of sympathy towards, but instead I felt alienated by the heavy, unnatural dialogue, the sort of dialogue that only comes from word processors and which does not contain an ounce of believable spontaneity.

These mainly objectionable people were showering us with theatrical small speeches and the occasional joke and it was too one dimensional. Their jokey strident accents were, like the food, difficult to swallow.

It was all a bit rough hewn For instance, the character Mike, a working class lad, tells a lie and the cast and the audience are taken in by this deceit. Now, if we had known it was a lie and the cast did not know then this dramatic irony would have given the dialogue more tension, hence interest.

The writer set herself a difficult task by having six characters on stage most of the time and tried to sustain our interest in all six of them. You can interest us in some of the people some of the time….but….

The central character, Paige, played by Stephanie Beacham, was very competent, but what had brought on all this anger. That was the problem I had with the rest of them. I didn't know enough about them and so how could I become interested in what they had to say?

So we search for meaning.

Has Paige seen the light? Has she taken on the mantle of the new messiah and is this dinner party her way of expressing her disgust towards what civilisation has become? Certainly her guests have broken a few commandments in their time.

What better way to punish your guests than by serving them the meal from hell. Lobster is served live and if you want to eat it , you have to kill it. Rubbish from the waste bin sprinkled with sugar makes a delicious dessert….a just dessert for a sinner??

The progress of the meal provides the play with a basic structure, the skeleton, but the meat on the bone was forced. I had the feeling that the playwright was finding it a strain to sustain her plot. Maybe she had no grand design and she meandered from one weak joke to the next in the hope that there would be some divine revelation in the end.

The audience at the New Theatre was in a mood to be entertained and they laughed at anything, reminiscent of the crowd at Wimbledon laughing when a pigeon flies across the centre court. Unfortunately the humour couldn't be sustained and the laughter gradually became less frequent. We needed pigeons!

For me the characters lacked interest. I wanted to learn more about their human frailties that were hiding beneath their irritating egos.

This author has picked up one trick. You provide your characters with so called sophisticated dialogue and then you get them to spit out unexpected expletives to give their delivery an edge. Okay, but don't over cook it.

To carry the allegory of the Last Supper to its inevitable conclusion we have to have the traitor's kiss and this is provided by Mike, played by Liam Smith, and it's this kiss that hurls us on to the tragic dénouement.

Of course, a sure fire winner is to have a surprise ending. Or was it a surprise? After all she had set herself up on a self inflicted messianic path. You can't pretend to be holier than thou without suffering the ultimate sacrifice.

This meal boils down to a matter of taste. I suppose there are layers of symbolism here if you want to unravel them. Personally, I found most of the meal unpalatable and difficult to stomach.

A hard working cast deserve better.

The play runs at the New Theatre until the 24th July.

Philip Fisher reviewed the West End production and Peter Lathan reviewed the touring version in Newcastle

Reviewer: Tony Layton

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