Progress serves up a slice of greatness
Dinner Until Saturday, April 22 Progress Theatre progresstheatre.co.uk 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. co.uk/2023-dinner