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BWW Review: DESSERT, Southwark Playhouse

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BWW Review: DESSERT, Southwark Playhouse

BWW Review: DESSERT, Southwark Playhouse

Glorious furniture decorates the stage, with 15th-century Venetian paintings hanging from the walls. A butler pours expensive wine and the four dinner guests congratulate him on cooking delicious food. Dessert is on its way, as is a night the five of them will never forget. Oliver Cotton's new play is a blend of unexpected twists and dark humour, directed by the seasoned Trevor Nunn, but drama is ultimately sacrificed for didactic discussion of capitalism.

The play opens with split conversations between the women and the men. There is a lot going on, but the opening moments do well to provide a distinction between the characters. Wesley (Stuart Milligan) is exuberantly bursting with energy; his wife Meredith (Teresa Banham) is more composed, puffing away on her e-cigarette. Alexandra Gilbreath makes a conscious effort to play Gill as the shrill housewife, an effective juxtaposition to Michael Simkin's smarmy Hugh.

Nunn conveys the tomfoolery of a dinner party, and his blocking of the action allows the actors to fully utilise the large space. This is emphasised further when the fusebox blows and the stage goes to blackout. The few minutes that follow are hilarious, as the characters awkwardly manoeuvre around the room and Meredith nearly has a nervous breakdown. When the lights flick back on, we are greeted with the nonchalant ex-soldier Eddie.

Dressed in army attire and carrying a knife and a Glock pistol, Eddie's arrival brings a much-needed change of pace. In theory we should despise this hostage-taker, but it's difficult as Stephen Hagan's portrayal of the character is charming and somewhat relatable. We find ourselves feeling sympathetic to his plight: he lost his left leg in Afghanistan, before coming home to discover his dad has had a stroke after losing £150k to an investment firm.

The main issue with Dessert is its narrative - it feels too circular. The majority of the text states the same content, repeated in numerous ways, taking away from the strong performances. This 120-minute play could have been easily condensed into just one act, and probably would have made a deeper impact in doing so. Something needs to happen, it doesn't, and the atmosphere quickly becomes stale.

Act 2 quickly deteriorates into the same repetitive cycle and we no longer care for these characters, despite a big reveal. From thereon in the play descends into a convoluted mess that lacks clarity and intention. There is too much dialogue and not enough action.

Nunn's justification for staging Dessert is confusing. He makes a case that this play is "urgent", yet it actually feels a few years out of date. Rachel Stone's superbly crafted design captures the Fennell's wealth, but - despite a strong cast - a potentially resonant dramatisation of the current income inequality debate is lost in pure polemic.

Dessert at Southwark Playhouse until 5 August

Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore


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From This Author Charlie Wilks