|Date||13th July 2019|
|Society||Leighton Buzzard Drama Group|
|Venue||Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre|
|Type of Production||Play|
Author: Richard Fitt
“I don’t think I’m entirely sure what ‘Dinner’ is all about.” Not my words, but those written by the director Carl Russell in the programme to describe Moira Buffini’s script. Having sat through it on Saturday night I know what he means. I came out thinking ‘and what the heck have I just seen?’ Now don’t let me put you off or give the wrong impression, none of the above comments are in anyway negative, quite the opposite in fact. This was something a little bit special in terms of a production and well worth every minute spent watching it. That said the plot is somewhat bizarre to say the least. Basically it’s a dinner party hosted by Paige; to celebrate the publication of her husband’s –retired City dealer Lars’ – book on Philosophy. The guests are a scientist, his ‘sexpot’ newsreader wife, a hippy, artist, vegetarian and an unexpected guest in the form of a van driver/burglar who has crashed his van into a ditch outside their house. The menu consists of a starter of Primordial soup, a main of live lobster, where the guests have to choose between releasing them into the pond or cooking them and to top it off, Frozen Waste as the desert. The rest of the plot is entirely dedicated to the protagonists slagging each other off. Oh, and not forgetting the almost silent professional waiter whose white painted face and subsequent facial expressions were worth the entrance money on their own. Add to that the use of well placed but in no way gratuitous profanities and you have a rough idea of what was on offer from this black comedy of bad taste.
The set, designed by Archie Gemmill and built by Stage Manager Mike Ward with Colin Delamore, was of the dining room of what was obviously an ultra-modern, very expensive house. Downstage on both sides were single vertical columns of what looked liked concrete blocks I can only describe as similar to the ones used on motorway roadworks to barrier traffic. Cleverly the same things were then used horizontally to barrier off the rear of the stage creating the illusion of a large plate glass window with a view on to the walkway to the house, along which each of the dinner guests subsequently arrived. The scenery effect created to complete the exterior view was spectacular with a winter scene of a silver birch wood which was I assume back projected as it was so incredibly realistic and looked 3D. The dining room itself consisted of a single long glass topped modern dining table with highbacked chairs to match. The table being initially decorated with three magnificent bouquets of flowers.
To complete the scene the lighting by Tom Davies, Emma Leigh Ayre and Dave Miles was large angular strip lighting blocks totally appropriate to this modern house. The overall effect was absolutely stunning and certainly set the scene.
Sadly they didn’t find a way of using the talked about fog as presumably it would have encroached into the house through the ‘plate glass window.’
To change the scenes the use of flood light blinders were turned upon the audience instead of a tradition curtain close. Not seen that done since it was used to protect the modesty of the actors in the final scene of The Fully Monty. Not quite sure why, but it was certainly a talking point..??
The props department/tech team of Christine Allen and Jan Murray busily provided a spectacular array of props especially in the food department from lobsters to frozen waste deserts and enough glasses ended up on the table to supply a fair-sized restaurant!
This play needed a top draw team of actors to pull it off and that is exactly what we got. A newcomer to LBDG but clearly a very experienced actress, both professional and amateur Tracey Chatterly as Paige was the host for the evening and lorded over her guests with total control and well placed barbed comments. Dressed in a stunning red evening dress she was the linchpin of this production and clearly revelled in the part as she glided through the show with a quite brilliant performance as the bitch from hell.
John Stone as her Philosopher husband Lars, was anything but, as he and Paige bared the cracks in their marriage for all to see. His portrayal of a man who has everything and should be at peace with himself, but is stuck in a marriage on the rocks and who is quite obviously yearning to renew his old affair with Wynne was pitch perfect.
Sam Stevens as Wynne, the vegetarian artist, was wonderfully quirky. The one genuinely nice person in the room she rode above the barbs around her magnificently with some wonderful observations and out of context comments. Her delivery of the dictionary definition of the ‘C’ word was the best delivered line of the evening!
Russell Bennett as Hal a ‘world famous’ microbiologist was comically uncomfortable throughout as he tried to water down the tone and deflect the even bitcher barbs form his own trophy wife.
Emma Brown as Sian, Hal’s ‘sexpot’ newsreader wife issued most of her bitchiness through looks and body language as she scorned her way through the dinner party finally coming into her own when given the task in one of Paige’s games to name as many murder weapons as possible in two minutes.
Mark Croft as the gate-crasher, van driver, burglar Mike was the odd man out who really did add the comic touches, and of course the ‘C’ word to proceedings. His contrasting character from a more down to earth world, totally different to the rest of the dinner table, adding straight talking and some believable fantasy was just comedy at its best. His remarks were often the timing that broke the otherwise ugly silences sending the audience into fits of laughter.
And finally, but by no means least Caroline Page as the waiter, complete with white clown makeup and penguin suit added the icing on the cake. With a total word count in the script of about six, her background reactions and facial expression just summed up the other guests perfectly. Brilliant standout performance.
I have to say although brilliantly acted and faultlessly directed by Carl Russell I found the plot a little hard to swallow at times and felt in real life the protagonists would long since have either punched each other on the nose and left, or done so when the first course arrived. This was Lady Macbeth territory magnified, such was the vitriol between the characters. That said the punch lines were so well delivered the audience were screaming with laughter at times having been squirming in their seats a few seconds earlier. I do admire LBDG’s bravery and confidence for picking the off the wall plays they keep coming up with and as Carl Russell says in the programme, ‘Be prepared to laugh when you think you really shouldn’t.’ Top draw stuff!!
Finally, thank you, Barbara and Mike, for your impeccable hospitality in sharp contrast to Paige’s. Always a pleasure to visit the outer reaches of my district!