A sour taste in the mouth

9 February 2008

Dinner, ADC Theatre, 5-9 February, 19:45

3 Stars

Reviewers Hannah Fair and Jessi Savage-Hanford

What with a stylishly minimalist set, experienced cast of seven and daring lighting design – not to mention the live crustations- surely the Alcock Players had the perfect ingredients for success? However something about this production of Moira Buffini’s Dinner lacked bite.

Dinner holds up a mirror to the follies of post-modern bourgeois existence and then gouges itself upon its broken shards. The premise is elegantly simple: hostess Paige, a woman occupied and preoccupied with little more than beautification, manipulation and revenge, decides to celebrate the publication of her solipsistic philosopher husband Lars’s faux-Nietcian bestseller with a carefully devised meal. An eroticist, microbiologist, ‘newsbabe’ and token working class driver join the company. But social graces and literary celebration are not on the menu. Instead, Paige serves up a delightful dish of just desserts, unbeknownst to and unexpected by her rich entrée of anxious guests.

Both Laura Bates and Dan Martin were exceptionally watchable throughout, dominating the stage as the characters sunk further into moral decay. Lucy Marks, as the naïve figurative artist, was also incredibly engaging: her rambling un-self-conscious monologues a definite highlight of the play.

Yet just like the barely twitching lobsters, what this play lacked was life and energy. The first half crawled along with the comedy wilting due to the ill-timed delivery. Nevertheless, the conspicuously small audience – seriously depleted due to the double temptations of pancakes and RAG Blind Date –did little to foster a less lacklustre atmosphere. However, anticipating a final half an hour of melodramatic sniping between crudely drawn caricatures, the second half took us by surprise. Here was the dynamic, energized and violently poignant drama we had craved, with Ellie Massie’s deranged passion finally beginning to command the stage.

Dinner is a difficult script. As a blunt rehashing of well-trod scenarios, characters and themes, it takes a masterfully executed and highly polished production to make it little more than a mediocre and forgettable use of two hours. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of this strong cast, there are some far more tasty shows on the Cambridge menu this week.