Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Deliciously macabre and very funny, this is a good performance of Moira Buffini’s brilliantly constructed dark comedy. Five friends gather on a foggy night for a celebratory dinner party, joined by a sinister waiter and a mysterious stranger. The carefully planned menu will stun the audience as much as the guests – as will the evening’s events – in this story of secrets, lies, class, relationships and betrayals.
Paige throws a carefully prepared dinner party for special selection of guests in honour of her husband Lars – but the sinister menu, the tension between the guests, and the arrival of a mysterious stranger in the fog combine to make an evening like no other, while a silent, sinister waiter lurks in the background. Moira Buffini’s script is dark, comic and unexpected, with pleasingly wry lines such as Paige’s sardonic description of Hal’s scientific book: ‘Very informative. Lovely diagrams.’ The characters are all fairly unpleasant to different degrees, but written so skilfully that they still manage to elicit the audience’s sympathy.
The play is reasonably well cast, though being a student production very few of the actors are the right age for the characters they play, and not all of them play the characters’ ages to the same degree of success. Will Hatcher’s Lars and Rhys Bevan’s Hal are the least convincing: Bevan’s physicality belies his grey-painted hair while Hatcher’s slightly colourless delivery drags the tension of the piece down at times. It is also hard to believe that they have a real understanding of the science and philosophy that their characters know so well, so the sections where they talk in detail about their work and theories tend to drag. Having said that, Bevan’s reaction to Sian’s revelation near the end of the play is a captivating moment, and Hatcher’s sardonic repartees with Charlotte Mulliner as Paige are well-delivered. Mulliner plays Paige with well-tempered control, and succeeds in making her sympathetic despite her unceasing bitchiness. Alfred Enoch’s Mike and Amelia Paterson’s Sian are equally good, and the deadpan comedy of Alice Pearse’s Wynne is never overplayed. Joe Harrison’s Waiter is well-judged, providing a controlled, still, sinister presence.
The direction by Anna Fox and Robert Hoare Nairne is mostly good, though there are moments that flag, which could be tightened up. Very impressive are the tight, polished sections of rapid dialogue between all the characters, which have clearly been well-rehearsed. Sometimes the emotions are allowed to be too large for the understated subtlety of the play – there is a moment in which Mike’s anger is too overstated to be in keeping with the text, and another moment in which Paige’s bitter tears are out of kilter with both the text and her controlled character. In moments like these the directors need to have more faith in the script and not be afraid of understatement, as it is the more underplayed moments that impress in this production. There is also a brief fight sequence that is clumsily choreographed, but that can be easily remedied. It is well staged, the directors have mostly been brave enough to allow the dinner table-based play the stillness it deserves. The design is excellent, the opulent dark covered dining table alone in the dark room an effective and sinister image.
This is one of my favourite of Buffini’s plays, so I am probably quite hard to please, but nevertheless I thought this was a good student production that does fair justice to a sparkling, macabre text. It played to a packed auditorium of mixed ages, who laughed and gasped their way through, captivated by the play’s darkly comic twists and turns.
The production’s flaws are not irredeemable – there is room for improvement which I have no doubt it will do over the course of its run. This company has created a good rendering of this challenging text and the weaker moments of performance and direction are well balanced by stronger, impressive aspects, making this a good 3 star show that I recommend.