Din­ner party with in­trigue on menu

Din­ner By Moira Buffini Syd­ney Theatre Com­pany. Drama Theatre, Syd­ney Opera House. Septem­ber 15

The Australian - - ARTS - JOHN McCALLUM

We’ve all been to din­ner-party plays like this. A group of peo­ple who don’t see each other very of­ten gather, the drinks flow, con­flicts arise, se­crets emerge. The party de­gen­er­ates and reaches a cli­max as the evening, in the plot and in the theatre, ends. But, at least in Imara Sav­age’s in­trigu­ing pro­duc­tion, there is some­thing dif­fer­ent about this one.

Moira Buffini’s play brings to­gether a col­lec­tion of mis­matched char­ac­ters un­der the di­rec­tion of the host­ess, Paige, an idle so­ci­ety woman. She has or­gan­ised it to cel­e­brate the suc­cess of her hus­band Lars’s new pop-phi­los­o­phy book. There is an artist, a sci­en­tist, a tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter, an in­ter­loper and a mys­te­ri­ous waiter whom Paige has found on the in­ter­net. The play has a thriller el­e­ment, as we won­der why Paige is or­ches­trat­ing this in­creas­ingly bizarre event and what she re­ally wants as she tor­ments her guests.

There is an­other level. Strange in­tru­sions from out­side the ac­tion keep still­ing it all for a mo­ment. El­iz­a­beth Gadsby’s set, with light­ing by Damien Cooper, puts them all in a huge glass-fronted box, in­side of which there is the lux­u­ri­ous din­ing room and out­side of which there is the black­ness of the stage. Within the box there is an­other space that opens up for the serv­ing of the cour­ses, a kitchen, ap­par­ently or­di­nary, but full of loaded clues. The score and sound de­sign by Max Lyand­vert lends a some­times eerie and some­times jar­ring di­men­sion.

It is as if the char­ac­ters were spec­i­mens be­ing dis­played for in­spec­tion. None of them is ap­peal­ing, ex­cept per­haps for the in­ter­loper, a young man from an­other class. The others — priv­i­leged, suc­cess­ful and wealthy — have made a very nice world for them­selves but they don’t seem to know what to do with it. For all their witty talk and bru­tal con­fronta­tions they seem trapped, lit­er­ally be­hind glass, in an ex­is­ten­tial­ist empti­ness.

It might not have all come to­gether were it not for the ex­cel­lent cast that Sav­age has as­sem­bled. It is led by Caro­line Bra­zier as Paige, a brit­tle, prickly woman with a ra­di­ant smile and some­thing grim lurk­ing. Sean O’Shea plays Lars, a vain, weak man with a glib fa­cil­ity for at­tract­ing peo­ple. The guests are played with elo­quent ex­ag­ger­a­tion by Re­becca Massey, Bran­don Burke and Claire Lover­ing. The young man is played with an ap­pro­pri­ate sense of mis­chief by Aleks Mi­kics.

Bruce Spence, as the mys­te­ri­ous waiter, looms silently over them all, un­til the end, when his true role is fi­nally re­vealed. Tick­ets: $79-$102. Book­ings: (02) 9250 1777 or on­line. Du­ra­tion: 1hr 40 mins, no in­ter­val. Un­til Oc­to­ber 28


Caro­line Bra­zier as Paige

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