Dinner party with intrigue on menu
Dinner By Moira Buffini Sydney Theatre Company. Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House. September 15
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