Dinner

Wed 3rd – Thu 25th August 2011

reviews

Rachel Lovibond

at 09:42 on 7th Aug 2011

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Moira Buffini’s ‘Dinner’ presents a disturbing, dysfunctional and sinisterly funny dinner party hosted by the character of Paige. Paige serves for her guests dishes such as algae soup, ‘apocalyptic’ lobster and frozen waste, followed by an offering of coffee or herbal tea. As the courses progress, so the relations between characters deteriorate and the shifting balance is marked by the physical change of the positioning of characters around the table between scenes. The set design consisted solely of the dinner table which was laid elegantly and simply, allowing the characters to be visually the strongest focus on stage with little else to divert attention.

The lurking character of the silent waiter cast a permanently ominous shadow over the party, heightened by the place setting for the absent dinner guest. The discussion around the dinner table ranged from Sian’s ‘rear of the year’ to Lars’s philosophical publishing and the nature of suicide and truth. The variety of sinister and lighter moments allowed the play to be darkly thought-provoking without becoming morose and was frequently punctuated with moments of genuine comedic relief. The character of Sian (Amelia Peterson), the Sartre-quoting ‘news babe’, achieved a perfect flatness in her voice when discussing both murder-weapons and badgers which complemented and enhanced the, at times, disconcerting mundanity with which the guests dwelt upon their subject matter.

Immediately, the strongest presence on the stage was that of Wynne, played by Alice Pearse. As an ‘eroticist’, Wynne enjoys art and genitalia, and Pearse delivered her performance with effortlessly natural humour and commanded the initial focus of both the audience and the dinner guests. The character of Paige, played by Charlotte Mulliner, grew more and more convincing as the play progressed but I felt that her tone of voice and delivery of her lines were not quite equal to the coldness of their content right at the beginning of the play. She did become more confident in her role as the play reached its climax, although she was often eclipsed by the other stronger female presences around the table.

Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas from Harry Potter) made a strong impression on both audience and guests as Mike, the character who joins the party mid-way through the meal. His entrance illuminates aspects of other characters which are not previously visible and he was easily the most interesting male character to watch developing on stage.

Acorn Productions’ version of ‘Dinner’ is a very powerful and exciting part of the fringe this year, and I would strongly encourage anyone to go and experience it.

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May Anderson

at 09:45 on 7th Aug 2011

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A bad dinner party can be one of the most hellish social experiences and when the hostess is consciously engineering an uncomfortable evening, forcing inedible food and unsettling conservation upon her guests with a smile and faultless manners, the ensuing affair makes a uniquely awkward theatrical spectacle. But Moira Buffini’s ‘Dinner’ excels at bringing the audience into this acrimonious world without leaving us feeling detached.

Our hostess for the evening is Paige: bored, beguiling and embittered by her upper-middle class existence, she is an exquisite crystallisation of thousands of over-educated housewives living on their husband’s capital. Charlotte Mulliner is pitch-perfect as this woman who has lived a half-life in the shadow of her husband's literary and financial success. The suppressed bile which lurks beneath every line she speaks is almost terrifying in its anger, but Mulliner never lets the veneer of respectability slip. Equally ominous is the noiseless waiter she finds to cater her dinner-party and whose impassive presence is made more threatening by Paige’s comment that like T.S. Eliot’s Eternal Footman he will hold one’s coat, and snicker. Without doing more than continually bringing in drinks he manages to be intensely menacing. In short, I was afraid.

Each character in this strong ensemble deserves commendation but Alice Pearse and Alfred Enoch deserve special mention. As Wynn, the bohemian artist, and Mike, an unexpected guest, they provide a lightness of touch that saves the play from being overwhelmed by the frustration and resentment that bubbles below the surface. Pearse is genuinely funny in her wonderfully eccentric interpretation of a bourgeois artist and whilst Enoch’s salt-of-the-earth cheeky chappy persona might not be as likeable as one might expect the fierce, enquiring intelligence that Enoch brings to the role makes him incredibly watchable.

An aspect that is so often neglected in student productions, the costuming of ‘Dinner’ is just right. Seeing all six sat around the dinner table I was struck by the sheer appropriateness of each character’s clothing. If the costume designer strove to give us an at a glance marker of these characters’ temperament, wealth and social standing they’ve done a sterling job.

An intelligent and entertaining theatrical experience with writing which leaves one reeling at the theatre door, Acorn Productions’ ‘Dinner’ is delicious.

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Comments

Fen Greatley; 7th Aug 2011; 10:00:47

*** Three Stars ***

They say that hosting a dinner party is one of the most stressful things that you can do in everyday life; whether that is true or not, it is certainly an unenviable position to hold. Yet in Moira Buffini's salacious script it is equally difficult to be an invitee, as the menu includes some very dubious food ('primordial soup' and 'frozen waste' [bin juice]) and unsavoury conversation – never have I seen a play with more uses of the 'c' word. Under the guise of celebrating her celebrated husband's new book, Paige plots her revenge on her cheating husband with the enlistment of an ominously silent waiter figure, using her guests as tools in the denouement.

Charlotte Mulliner's Paige, though convinvingly cutting in her poisonous remarks, lacks the life experience to lend conviction to her fraught position, let down by her youthful voice and visage. The audience shares her frustration at her loosening grip on the handle of affairs; Mullier's Paige is artful, clever and conniving; yet her vengeful evening is somewhat derailed. The performance is bereft of pain, however, and there is no sense of heartbreak at her husband's betrayal – Paige thus comes across as much younger and consequently petulant, a slightly insipid Becky Sharp type.

Instead, Alice Pearse as Wynne is the clear star of this production. From her graceless entrance to the very end of the play, she is entirely lacking in self-consciousness.She lends an almost unattainable credibility to a hilarious stereotype, namely that of the directionless thirty-something arts graduate, switching between jobs and all flair with no substance. Rarely have I ever laughed so hard at such wonderfully delivered black comedy – the beauty is the sincerity with which it is spoken; this goes for Amelia Peterson's Sian, a tricky role to manoeuvre, but one she manages well with deadpan aloofness.

The men in this play pitch weaker performances, with the exception of Dean Thomas' (sorry, Alfred Enoch's) Mike, who is ultimately likeable. Rhys Bevan's Hal and Will Hatcher's Lars are competently presented, but largely unremarkable; much of the comedy of Hal was found only by the well-wishing friends of the cast in the audience (among which I number), while Lars is realistic, but lacking in entertainment quality and overshadowed by the more absurd comportment of the other characters.

This play is worth seeing for its superb script, one which takes real characters and forces them to wake up and smell the bulls***, confronting people with their Wildean utterances and holding them to account. Director Anna Fox has succeeds in creating an atmosphere in which we, the spectator, feel like the unwelcome guest, the uncomfortable observer in the social unravelling of high society.

What A Bad Review; 7th Aug 2011; 14:09:20

Commenting on a review with your own review?

Hmm. Maybe somebody else "lacks the life experience" required to not seem like a f***wit.

Fen Greatley; 7th Aug 2011; 14:12:01

Thanks for your mature and helpful feedback; I was asked to paste this review as a comment.

What A Bad Review; 7th Aug 2011; 15:05:12

No problem. Use it as an example to develop your mature & helpful reviewing. Don't worry, one day you'll be in league with the big boys.

Joe Nicholson; 7th Aug 2011; 17:30:29

This is too much of a personal attack, "WhatABadReview"- Fen offered a review of the play- his own opinion which he is, of course, entitled to.

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