Edinburgh Fringe 2012
What’s happening to the art of dinner party conversation? Why do singles who become couples all end up talking about babies, theme coloured walls and Ikea furniture? It’s almost as if we’ve a desire to live like the couples in Mike Leigh’s iconic play “Abigail’s Party”. Cheese and pineapple anyone?
Finding Xavier Toby’s thoughtful piece entitled “Binge Thinking” was a cerebral exercise in itself. C nova is another of these rabbit warren Fringe venues that are always going to defeat the directionally challenged such as myself. And when I finally tracked it down, it was yet another example of the airless, hot and humid cupboard that passes for a lot of Fringe sites these days.
Still, at least the temperature inside was more akin to Toby’s native Adelaide where this show played to wide acclaim earlier this year. A pity, then, that it took so long to warm up over here. Fair dinkum, he had to deal with a late start and a few other lost audience members, but there comes a point when you’ve just got to get on with it. And when the opening patter was as weak as it was here, it was always going to be a struggle to engage with the audience.
Quite a few of the anecdotes and jokes on parade here have been round the block a few times over the last fifty or so years and will probably go round a few times more yet. That’s not to say that in the hands of the right orator they’re not funny and Toby has an easy, laconic style of delivery that gradually recaptured wandering minds, leading them steadily but surely to the deeper message he wanted to get across.
Toby’s beef is that we’ve stopped thinking deeply enough about anything. The age of Twitter, Facebook, email and the internet means that hardly anyone reads real books these days – we just scan, skim and swallow information presented to us without thinking about its context or whether it is accurate. Warming to his theme, he illustrates his point with a discursive description of a dinner party he attended on a recent trip home. As the single guest together with three other couples, he’s alarmed to see the sextet of people he knew before he left on his travels as broad thinking, liberal minded individuals have all descended into a world in which they focus on themselves and their narrow aspirations. Gone is the awareness of and passion for mankind in general. Welcome to the middle class and middle age.
Cleverly illustrating the couples with drinks of varying quality (champagne for the lawyer lady wife, beer for her hunk of a plumber, chardonnay for those with pretentions and so on), he is saddened that the topics of conversation revolve around babies, themed walls and Ikea furniture. Politics, religion and money are taboo dinner party subjects and make so few appearances that he fears society is not so much evolving but going into reverse. Everything, these days, is about “me” or “us” and not about the major issues facing the human species.
But, despite his obvious passion and desire to avoid the dangers of such dumbing down, his message stays hidden until the final moments of an act that could benefit from a degree of tightening and structure. This may happen naturally as the show evolves during the course of its run here which would add a bit of polish to what is quite a nice rough diamond of a piece.