Dinner | Focus TheatreDinner’ is quite a surprise, as is Moira Buffini. She is again playing outrageously in Sydney, this time at the Griffin. B Sharp did ‘Loveplay’, 2002, and, The New, ‘Silence’, 2003. There’s no question she gives her characters a bloody sharp tongue and a taste for going over the top and director, Pete Nettell, allows them full rein in this production.

As one of London’s In Your Face theatre exponents that’s probably not surprising. Although apart from a tad risqué word or two, largely self edited, the most she got in the face of the audience was probably the menu. There was Primordial soup complete with several weeks of growth of algae, Lobster Apocalypse, as you like it, if at all, and desert of Frozen Waste especially for hubby. It made for interesting table conversation. However since postmodern German playwrights took to the streets it’s been hard work giving any audience a shock.

One director has commented that the most appealing thing about Buffini’s work is her playfulness and that was certainly evident here.

It’s a dinner setting played more or less in real time. The unexpected guest, Mike, Johann Malraven, accommodated by the absence of the partner to hubby’s one time heart throb, Wynne, Alice Livingstone, presents a common enough scenario for an upset. He’s like ‘Dying Out’s’ minority shareholder, not in the set but a curiosity nonetheless but Paige, the hostess, played suitably acerbically by Belinda Giblin, has orchestrated an upset of her own this evening. Needless to say it has nothing and everything to do with the waiter, John Freeman, who seems to know the score but isn’t about to say anything on the subject.

Lars, played by Barry Langrishe, has written a best seller on self discovery. Having retired from the city to engage in philosophy that’s probably not a bad thing to occupy oneself with. He and Paige are now getting under each other’s feet and with no offspring to provide other feet to follow they’re distracting themselves.

Hence a dinner for friends but the spot on Lars’ trousers is an unforeseen distraction.

Wynne turns out to be a bit of a surprise herself, ‘sadly undiscovered’ as an artist she has obviously caught the eye of Lars. Then there’s Lars’ chum, Hal, to which Noel Hodda brings something of George from ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf’, a microbiologist with a wife, Sian, who any fellow would like to get under the microscope, played with delightful detachment by Tenille Halliday. Watching her make a meal of lobster is yet another distraction

They get to talk, as dinner guests will, about love and sex and God and self and life and death and basically everything that Buffini is interested in. Unlike some of her past offerings however, instead of showing life at the edge, this selection of invitees are getting over it, or they’re past it or trying to recover or have given up on it all together, even the interloper, it seems.

There is no denying that it’s very funny. The cast was obliged to hold the next sarcastic side swipe so the audience could get over the previous one but like the surfeit of wine that the guests imbibed through dinner this ‘Dinner’ left one feeling rather seedy at the end.

Nihilism is like cold potato, never an easy bite to stimulate the taste buds even when served with copious additives of laughter. There were a good many echoes of ‘Cold Child’ in this work that probably would live as a hot meal at home but somehow misses when served away.

Buffini is reported to have commented, "I'm very respectful of actors … All characters, however fleetingly you see them, should be three-dimensional”. In the end that was the problem, they weren’t. She’s a playwright, much like Ayckbourn, whom you can get great mileage with the laughs but you can get even more with the characters when they’re there.

Ultimately one cared as much for them as they did for themselves and as the interloper Mike commented, ‘What if in the end they just don’t matter?’ or something of the sort.

Buffini is by all accounts very concerned with morals and has learnt how to spice them. In this particular piece however the salt may have been a little spare. It may have also been that the concept itself was flawed; breaking bread in the human experience is about sharing not creating a culinary poem.

In summer-days like grasshoppers rejoice,--
A bloodless race, that send a feeble voice...
Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,--
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground;

(Homer; Alexander Pope transl.)

Still, when all’s said and done, it’s a lot of fun.

Focus Theatre and Griffin Stablemates present the Sydney premiere of
by Moira Buffini

SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
5 July  –  4 August, 2007
Mon @ 6:30pm. Tue - Sat @ 8pm. Sat Matinee @ 2pm
Full $29. Snr $25. Preview/Matinee/Conc. $22. Group 8+ $25. Under 30 $25
1300 306 776 or online at www.griffintheatre.com.au

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