BWW REVIEW: Bitterness And Bitchiness Are Served Up In The Bizarre Comedy Thriller DINNER
Friday 15th September 2017, 8pm, The Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
DINNER invites the audience to peer in on the world of the arrogant and affluent as they posture and pose through a night of feigned civility with backhanded barbs. Moira Buffini's baffling but comic work, directed by Imara Savage is an entertaining exposition on the structure of a society that would rather be seen to be trendy than be truly happy.
The premise of the work, which was first staged in London in 2002, is that the pretentious Paige (Caroline Brazier) is hosting a dinner party under the pretext of celebrating her husband Lars' (Sean O'Shea) new book, Beyond Belief. Having hired a severe and silent waiter (Bruce Spence) from the internet to serve the small gathering, the sniping Paige proceeds to exhibit a veiled aggression to Lars and his odd assortment of friends throughout the night. The guest list comprises Wynne (Rebecca Massey) an ecologically conscious, strict vegetarian, erotic artist who at the time the invitation was made was dating a politician. Much to Paige's disgust, the politician fails to show, having recently dumpEd Wynne, with the disruption to the planned dinner party conversation being Paige's biggest concern amid Wynne's blubbering. The other guests for the intimate affair comprise the middle aged microbiologist Hal (BranDon Burke) and his second wife, the leggy blonde bimbo Sian, a television news reader. Paige has designed a profound menu to rival the pretentiousness of the proliferation of cooking shows, proving that she is more intent on proving her sophistication rather than celebrating Lars' success. The ever increasingly alcoholic and acerbic party is disrupted by the arrival of the young Mike seeking to use their phone to call for assistance with his crashed van, another casualty of the imposing ominous fog outside. If the story wasn't already bizarre, it then takes on an old English who-dunnit foreboding as truth and lies are hard to differentiate and the meal and conversation becomes even more absurd and uncomfortable.
Creating distance between the audience and the action, Designer Elizabeth Gadsby has narrowed the performance space to a glass windowed box set, positioned a considerable distance upstage. For a work that is already nonsensical, this design choice serves to further alienate the audience which is trying to find meaning in the display of bitterness and entitlement that occupies the bored mind. The distance and the positioning of performers also serves to restrict the view of characters, making it harder to engage and therefore sympathise with any of the characters.
The absurd script with no obvious message and the odd design choices aside, the performers do the best they can with the material. Caroline Brazier as Paige captures the bored, bitchy socialite who is dismally unhappy with her life but who wants to be seen as 'having it all' when in reality her control over everything, her husband included, is slipping. She has the stereotypical snootiness seen in British drama with qualities one would imagine from the new money socialites of Sydney's leafy suburbs. She captures the ridiculousness of someone needing to prove something, from the evening gown to the food that ranges from a "choose your own destiny" dinner to a whole raw cabbage.
While Lars is moderately more grounded, Sean O'Shea ensures his moments of ridiculousness are played up, from the oddly timed dip in the pool partway through dinner to his outburst at the intruder he, only moments earlier, welcomed with open arms. O'Shea ensures that that audience sees that Lars is unsatisfied with his situation but has also resigned himself to a degree, attempting to humour Paige and keep up appearances.
Rebecca Massey ensures Wynne is a contradiction, at times over the top, and others, meek and mousey making it believable that she was an outsider at university where she met Lars. Her portrayal of an environmental fanatic and a hard core vegetarian is easily recognisable in her reaction to the "preparation" of the main course for the rest of the gathering. She plays up the indignation at the use of certain words in contrast to her chosen artistic field with a sweet earnestness that adds to the absurdity of the character.
BranDon Burke presents Hal as the stereotypical middle aged man who has traded his wife in for a younger model who looks good but doesn't necessarily match him in anything more than greed and vanity. Hal and Wynne are really the only two characters that express honest emotion and Burke's regret when he realises that he gave up his wife for a twit in a tight skirt.
Sian's disinterest for Hal and his friends is presented with a modern age dismissiveness by Claire Lovering. Whilst relishing in Paige's twisted party games there are signs that Sian is heading down the same path of bitterness and emptiness like the older trophy wife but mixed with the regret is the fear that the attachment to Hal could be more 'permanent' than she'd planned.
As outsider Mike, Aleks Mikic presents the difference in class and education between the haves and have nots. He presents the youngster's tales with a believability that has both the audience and the dinner guests questioning which story is true and having doubts as to his true identity and motivations. He has likeability and a dangerous mystery all at the same time and his presence helps highlight the pretention of the gathering as well as their wavering humanity.
If you want a night of laughs where you aren't ever really sure what is happening and even less why, DINNER will satisfy. If you are looking for a more substantial message, you could be trying to digest this 1 hour 40 minute work for a while trying to find any significant sustenance from it.
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
11 September - 28 October 2017