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Photo by by Brett Boardman


Sydney Theatre Company present, DINNER, by Moira Buffini, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House, 15 September - 28 October

DINNER, is a British play, written in 2002, by Moira Buffini.

In the original and published text, which is different to what we see in this production, produced by the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), Paige (Caroline Brazier), a famous gourmet hostess, invites a group of middle class intellectuals (not aristocrats, as suggested in the program) to a, supposedly, celebratory dinner, for the successful publication of her husband’s, Lars (Sean O’Shea), philosophic how-to-live a happy life tome BEYOND BELIEF. Wynne (Rebecca Massey), a not famous painter, arrives without her husband Bob, a politician, who has just run off with one of his ‘temp’s’. She does not appear to be upset. Paige, is more so, for now, she has an uneven table and an excess of food, and her planned scenario of cast activity thwarted. She must begin to improvise rather earlier than hoped for, it seems. And as we discern throughout the night, Wynne, herself, has a romantic agenda of her own going on and is relatively comfortable with the state of things, without hubby. Hal (Brandon Burke), a micro-biologist, lately divorced from suicidal Mags – a close friend of Paige’s – and newly married to Sian (Claire Lovering), a television journalist/presenter – ‘a news babe’ – arrives next. (To digress, in a time when Marriage Equality is being debated, heatedly, it is arresting to note that none of the four heterosexual marriages revealed here are positive role models of success, and one has to believe, consequently, that it is the question of Equality rather than Marriage that ought to be at the centre of Australia’s contemporary debate -if these people represent marriage, who would want to do it?) Paige has hired a waiter (Bruce Spence), who is silent, found on the Internet, who also has other special gifts, and makes a requited demand, that his services are to be paid expensively in cash, in advance. The Menu consists of PRIMORDIAL SOUP, as a starter; APOCALYPSE OF LOBSTER, for The Main; and a Dessert: FROZEN WASTE. The planning by Paige for this night has been meticulous and spiteful, to say the least. Just after the Starter has been served, a working class lorry driver, Mike (Aleks Mikic), arrives – further disturbing the well laid plans of the ‘ hostess with the mostest’ – he is invited to stay.

A dinner party of vicious verbal wit ensues revealing the meticulous plan that Paige has drawn up to revenge herself on her duplicitous husband, in front of her chosen guests, with her own bloody public murder/suicide by the Silent Waiter to be this Dinner Party’s coup de grace. In the original, published text, the waiter reneges on the deal, returns the money and leaves. Paige is distressed and accidentally shoots the working class representative at the party, Mike, in the back, then, in the ensuing panic from the other guests, attempts to shoot herself and fails. A plan is made to collude on a fabrication concerning Mike’s death and put it into action by these ‘wankers’ only to have the ‘newsbabe’ to inform them that she has managed to call the police and that they are on their way. The ‘new moneyed’ pseudo-intellectuals have perpetrated murder of the lower order and now are left ‘stewing’ in their juices of venom – A Dinner, indeed.

The original version of the play was, probably, written in response to the oligarchical moneying of London in the ’90’s where the rich seem to be in a universe of no real consequence for actions, all of their own. ‘What money can buy, we can have!’ Produced just two months after the tragic, symbolic, time changing attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, this play seems to be completely irrelevant as a contribution to the conversation through Art, of and for our anxiety ridden state in our contemporary world.

And despite the auteur intervention by the Director, Imara Savage and her Designer, Elizabeth Gadsby, by placing the play in a sealed box with a vast glass wall for us to see through to distance us from the ‘performative’ script of the playwright, as well as providing a detailed stylised, architectural set of rooms, including a not needed kitchen for other ‘illuminating’ (?) Directorial activity, and further isolating the performers from the audience’s easy identification, with the use of obvious micro-phoned sound to further disembody the performers as flesh and blood- rather, creating comic target caricatures – with an additional series of directorial flourishes to further ‘theatricalise’ the production, such as: introducing the drowning out of the actors with low passing jet sounds; eerie music (Max Lyandvert) that is a cue to paralyse the performers who then slowly turn to stare at us through the glass sheets; the appearance of stage-management with stage equipment or cleaning tools, without any other comment throughout the action of the production, and the scrawling on the glass walls: “Fuck Shit Up”, of which, not any of this auteurship gestures can make this play work as a vital and justifiable part of contemporary conversation. Not even the new last scene (as contrasted to the published text), where the working class figure is witness to his hostess’s murder/suicide instead of being the victim, makes a clear mark – just what is the relevance of this new statement by the Writer and Director?  What was the point?  Anyway, the production had gone far beyond my caring by the time we reached its end after a wearying hour and forty minutes of personal abuse comedy, with no interval to relieve the tediousness.

The very best thing about this performance, and the only reason to attend this production, is the quality of the actors who manage to survive the importunate choices of the Directorial team, and this is despite the diminishing returns of the relentless denigrating dialogue of this pseudo- revenge/comedy/satire/tragedy. Caroline Brazier, is brittle and bright, poised – indefatigable – in the central ‘poisonous’ role of Paige, while Rebecca Massey is a tour de force of character comic, with all, Claire Lovering, Brandon Burke, Bruce Spence, Sean O’Shea and an interesting comic debut by Aleks Mikic, supporting each other with an ensemble approach of performance survival style in their attempt to reach us, and communicate something to us, through that damnable glass wall. DINNER, on opening night was an experience where intellectual conception burdened the play and players over much.

This play was presented in Sydney by a team led by Alice Livingstone many years ago now, in the SBW Theatre in Kings Cross. I saw a production at the Melbourne Theatre Company with Pamela Rabe, as well, some time ago. Why the STC thought this was a relevant play to occupy our stages in 2017, is, frankly, beyond me. Kip Williams in his introductory message in the program suggests that Moira Buffini’s debut at the STC, ‘applies a liberal helping of Luis Bunuel surrealism and Alfred Hitchcock thriller with a dash of J.B. Priestly class interrogation’. It is what we see but it is more Imara Savage than the writer Moira Buffini, that has Bunuel, Hitchcock and Priestly, in mind, I think. Ms Buffini has more of some of the grand guignol of the Jacobean Revenge plays in mind.

DINNER, in the Drama Theatre is not as Mr Williams would wish: a must see “Bon appetit”.