Moira Buffini’s Dinner centres entirely on events that unfold during a dinner party. It’s far from an original premise, but with ‘Primordial Soup’ on the menu for entrée, ‘Apocalypse of Lobster’ for main and ‘Frozen Waste’ for dessert, this dark satire also offers a far from run-of-the-mill dinner party.
On this occasion, Paige Janssen (Caroline Brazier) is hosting a dinner party ostensibly to celebrate the success of Beyond Belief, a best-selling pop-philosophy book penned by her husband, Lars (Sean O’Shea). The event takes place at the couple’s plush country home and Paige engages the services of a waiter (Bruce Spence) to serve the meal. She comments early on in proceedings that she’s paid the extortionate amount of £25,000 for his services (why that’s the case is not apparent until later in the evening).
The guests invited to attend this dinner party are all successful individuals: an artist, Wynne (Rebecca Massey), a scientist, Hal (Brandon Burke), and his girlfriend, Sian (Claire Lovering), a television journalist to whom he refers using the misogynistic label ‘his news babe’. Wynne’s husband has also been invited to attend, but as a result of his very recently-discovered infidelity, is a no-show. Much to Paige’s displeasure, that leaves an odd number of guests at her dinner table.
Soon, however, a stranger knocks on the door. It’s a young man, Mike (Aleks Mikic), who says that his van has become stuck in a ditch near the property and asks to use the telephone. He is eventually invited to join the group, several of whom initially treat him as an object of fascination because Mike is a man who doesn’t frequent the same social circles.
As the evening progresses, we see that Paige has set a machination in motion that will expose the flaws in each of her guests – herself and her husband included – and as that curtain is pulled back and we hear tales of adultery, of ill treatment and attempts to educate the masses with pseudoscience, it reveals what a truly awful, self-centred and profoundly unhappy group of people they are, with perhaps the exception of Mike, who’s stumbled across the occasion from the lower echelons of society.
Buffini’s black comedy has a witty and well-honed script and director Imara Savage has created an immensely stylish production. Elizabeth Gadsby’s impeccably detailed set design is the perfect rendering of Paige and Lars’ country manor, right down to the table settings. Also important is the decision to place the entire stage behind a glass wall. It conveys a sense that we as an audience are peering into this world through a fishbowl or, alternatively, creates a barrier between us and a world that has deliberately chosen to exclude us. The action in Dinner is well underscored by Max Lyandvert’s compositions, particularly effective during scene transitions.
Dinner also features a fine cast of actors. As host Paige, Brazier is excellent, bringing to life a character so spiteful, so acerbic, and so cruel, and she so adeptly portrays her gradual unravelling over the show’s 95 minutes. O’Shea as Paige’s husband, Lars, is so demonstrably done with his current life and does not seem at all to buy in to the hype around his own book. As the somewhat scatter-brained vegan artist Wynne, Massey is also a major success in her role; Burke delivers as the microbiologist Hal; Lovering is strong as the intelligent but similarly selfish newscaster; and Mikic’s performance as lowly van driver Mike is a great portrayal of a man who has genuine insight to offer Paige and her dinner guests – and they know it.
Dinner is certainly generous in the quality of the contents it offers – a very good script, a first-rate cast and direction, and sumptuous production design – but it may leave a bitter taste in your mouth, owing to the odious nature of most of the characters and the fact of there being no clear and compelling purpose. That said, it’s ultimately satiating entertainment.
DINNER – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 28 October
Venue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Tickets: Box office – 02 9250 1777 or www.sydneytheatre.com.au