‘Dinner’ is an unusual Cordon Bleu offering from the Carlisle born – or is she Cheshire born? (According to which source you read) playwright, Moira Buffini. Incredibly, Buffini was a nursing mother when she wrote ‘Dinner’.
When her 44 year-old father died in a car crash, Moira was only 4 years old. Her Mum was left to bring up three young children by herself. After studying English and Drama at London University, Moira went on to train as an actor at the Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Despite being nominated in 2003 for an Olivier ‘Best New Comedy’ Award, ‘Dinner’ was extensively rewritten at the end of the opening run. With a score of plays to her credit, often written between auditions, Buffini’s works tend to have a dark, satirical theme, and this is no exception.
This wonderfully moreish, WA Premiere is being presented by the Black Swan State Theatre Company, and can be seen at the Heath Ledger Theatre, within the State Theatre of Western Australia, 146 William Street, Northbridge. The 105-minute performances commence each evening at 7.30, with the season running until Sunday 29th March.
The set is in a country home on the outskirts of London, the scene is a massive, sumptuous conservatory with 4 metre high, glass panels on three walls. A beautiful bronze and gold candelabrum hangs in the centre of the room, above a Perspex and glass dining table, with six clear acrylic chairs around it. The table is immaculately set for a banquet.
The set and lighting designer, Trent Suidgeest, has used a similar set to that of His Majesty’s ‘Equus’ – the multiple windows allow us to see the inclement weather outside, and to remind us that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The stylish props are by India Metha.
The curtain rises to show a beautiful woman in a scarlet dress kissing a waiter.
Thrilled that his new, Nietzsche style, psychology self-help book, ‘Beyond Belief’, is a best seller, smug Lars Janssen (Steve Turner) is about to celebrate. His finicky, acid-tongued, bitch of a wife, Paige (Tasma Walton) has decided to host a glitzy dinner party in his honour.
Paige is resolute to have everything flawless. Digging into history, she carefully creates a strange and nauseating menu. A ‘bad taste’ dinner in every sense. She even hires a waiter (Kenneth Ransom) just for the event, however, when she pays his service fee of 25,000 pounds in cash, we are left wondering why.
Why does she want to demean her husband and affront their guests?
To help the evening flow smoothly with her weird collection of narcissistic, killjoy guests, Paige has a list of interesting topics to discuss over dinner. The guests include a Freudian artist, Wynne (Alison van Reeken), a feminist who should carry a health warning, ‘may be nutty’. Then there is the chauvinistic, divorced microbiologist, Hal (Greg McNeill) accompanied by his ‘new babe’, outspoken journalist, Sian (Rebecca Davis).
As the acerbic and venomous hostess’s memorable celebration gets underway, East Ender (Voice coach Luzita Feraday) Mike (Stuart Halusz), a hoody-wearing driver has crashed in the fog, and arrived requiring help.
Another exquisite musical score, mainly cellos and bass adagio, from sound designer and composer, Ash Gibson Greig helps set the threatening atmosphere.
India Metha created most of the costumes, but Michelle Tindale designed Sian’s dress. It is a full length, backless black silk dress, with a subtle light grey print at thigh level. Alvin Fernandez and Ae’lkemi have designed a stunning scarlet number for Paige; the dress is mainly of scarlet lace with matching embroidered and feather trimmings. Sheree Dornan was the designer of Wynne’s knee length dress of olive and brown crushed velvet, with a simple faux pearl pattern on the hem.
The central dining table rotated very slowly, allowing us to see the diners from different perspectives (Stage Manager Peter Sutherland). One course of the meal had most effective animation that made the audience squirm.
Director, Kate Cherry, adeptly starts the evening with friendly, soft-spoken banter at a laidback pace. Subtly, this wonderful cast crept the volume and aggravation slowly up until the unexpected final climax. Tasma Walton has been given a huge challenge with her part and has blossomed – what a bitch! The other insincere characters start off ‘all smiles’ but got positively nasty as the meal progressed. Kenneth Ransom was a man of few words, but his elegance and demeanour spoke volumes. Halusz as the jack-the-lad was the breath of fresh air in this dark – yet hilarious – tale. Davis played a deep thinking journalist, and we never really got to know what was going on in her head. Then there is poor dippy Wynne, who is shocked at the swearing and most of life’s encounters.
The actors, many of them Equity Award winners, had numerous characteristics each to conquer, and this they did with finesse.
Forget fast food with old friends, this is a dish to savour alone, but what would The West Australian’s Rob Broadfield score the meal? A play that livens your taste buds, but could it have a bitter after taste? Make a meal of it, have an excitingly different night out.