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Progress serves up a slice of greatness

Dinner Until Saturday, April 22 Progress Theatre progressth­ 0118 384 2195


PROGRESS Theatre has plated up its latest production, an adaptation of Moira Buffini’s ‘Dinner.’ The play is a dark comedy, first debuted at the National Theatre in

2002, which sees protagonis­t Paige inviting friends to dinner to celebrate the publicatio­n of her husband’s book.

The arrival of an unexpected guest is just one of the occurrence­s which threatens to derail the event, already marked by a series of bizarre culinary offerings.

The hostess is portrayed by

Samantha Bessant – fresh from Liar’s Teeth at the same company – with joyful aplomb.

The uptight socialite Paige feels like Bessant has taken all the right notes from Alison Steadman in Abigail’s Party, while bringing the more retro, 1970s touches down to suit a contempora­ry audience.

She is joined by husband and author Lars, portrayed with equal presence and dynamism by Ian Belcher.

His moments of put-upon, marital apathy are well-contrasted with more animated, emotional scenes, particular­ly towards the conclusion of the play.

Fellow dinner guests are all wildly antithetic­al to one another, with the meek and passive Wynne, apathetic journalist Sian, and effusive scientist Hal.

Emma Kellow’s Wynne is underplaye­d without fading away, making for a good foil to the more boisterous characters during the first act, and with an enjoyable undercurre­nt of energy which occasional­ly erupts to great effect.

Laurence McNaughton’s portrayal of Hal is effervesce­nt, bringing a lively and fun aspect to the character which plays off against the fellow guests well.

The show is stolen, however, by Pixie Nash’s Sian and Megan Turnell Willett’s Mike, who drops into the play like a cluster bomb at the conclusion of the first act.

Nash has perfected the airs of a standoffis­h, skeptical profession­al, but weaves it excellentl­y through with moments of real humanity and well-observed hedonistic tendencies.

She is complement­ed well by the thoroughly down-to-Earth, work-a-day Mike, whose portrayal by Turnell Willett is one of the standouts in a strong cast.

Lastly, Nick Gallo performs his role as the waiter diligently, with each of the character’s admittedly sparse lines performed to their fullest effect and his presence on stage forgotten not once.

It’s clear the cast has the chops to bring Moira Buffini’s fizzing dialogue to where it belongs, at the dinner table, with real attention paid to making the performanc­e engaging but grounded.

This is also especially important in “bottled” plays, where much of the action takes place in a single setting.

Incidental­ly, one of the striking aspects of the production is the set work.

The story takes place in a believable, well-observed dining room replete with fringed felt curtains, gold-framed artworks, and a good selection of choice props to really sell the setting.

The gold-relief wallpaper and red, upholstere­d dining chairs are particular­ly good touches.

It also includes a smart method of portraying the outside fog which is vital to the play’s story, and which is to be commended along with very solid costume work.

Finally, sound, and production work is, as ever, lightly applied to the play, but all the more effective in its focus as a result, especially the inclusion of classical renditions of modern music.

Overall, a more-than-capable cast is excellentl­y directed by Progress stalwart Dan Clarke, with the play’s laugh-outloud moments turned up to 11 to match the dramatic moments which punctuate the plot.

Buffini’s work is energetic and exciting as well as pithy and philosophi­cal, and with Dinner, Progress has shown that its passionate performers and producers are more than up to the task.

Progress features a number of accessible show dates, including socially distanced performanc­es.

Relaxed performanc­es are adapted to make provisions for families with young children and people with physical or special needs.

This includes a relaxed attitude to audience noise, adaptation­s to the production to reduce anxiety and sensory stimuli.

It also holds Come As You Are nights, which feature earlier opening times and space to change for trans, non-binary, or gender non-conforming people who can feel excluded or unsafe in certain public spaces

Progress Theatre is showing Dinner until Saturday, April 22.

Accessibil­ity informatio­n and tickets are available via: progressth­eatre.

 ?? Pictures: Courtesy of Progress Theatre ?? IT’S SERVED: Progress Theatre is showing Dinner from Friday, April 14, to Saturday, April 22.
Pictures: Courtesy of Progress Theatre IT’S SERVED: Progress Theatre is showing Dinner from Friday, April 14, to Saturday, April 22.

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