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May 28, 2012 6:41 pm
Dinner parties rarely go well in drama. In Matthew Dunster’s sharp new play, the roast lamb hasn’t even made it out of the oven before the assembled guests are first fighting among themselves and then making embarrassing requests of the host.
Michael and Gordon are old friends: they met at drama school and were once inseparable. But time and fortune have separated them. Gordon’s acting work has dried up and, with it, his finances. Michael (Darrell D’Silva) meanwhile has become a successful television star, has several houses, heaps of money and an enviable lifestyle. He’s droning on about sherry and marinades, while Gordon (Trevor Fox) is quietly getting drunk enough to ask him a colossal favour. Add in a bolshy teenage daughter (Emily Berrington), her earnest boyfriend (John MacMillan) and an uncomfortable second wife (Beth Cordingly), and you can see that the roast lamb is going to struggle to make an impression.
As social comedy, Dunster’s play can be excruciatingly funny. He catches that over-emphatic bonhomie that people engage in when they feel socially awkward. He’s also great at dropping bombshells – there is one in each of the three acts, each handled beautifully by Jeremy Herrin and his cast in a nicely edgy production. But Dunster is not just concerned with his characters’ frailties: his play ties personal ethics and responsibility into the larger picture. It’s in the same sort of area as Miller’s All My Sons, examining the ways we ease our consciences.
Castro, the earnest boyfriend, voices the play’s real concerns. A would-be film-maker, he hopes to make documentaries about the environmental and human costs of our craving for cheap energy. The play edges round his views until finally he lets rip, delivering a long speech about gas flares in Nigeria and oil drilling on Sakhalin Island and attacking the selfish carelessness of the developed world. His point is that the west needs to wake up and take ethical business and environmental responsibility far more seriously.
Plays with too many ideas are infinitely preferable to those with too few, but even so, this one is just too diffuse, jumping from issue to issue and getting to the real point late on, which dilutes its impact and, sometimes, plausibility. But it’s very engagingly acted, particularly by Sally Rogers, superb as Gordon’s long-suffering wife. And Dunster’s depiction of a myopic society fiddling while flares burn is, as it should be, disturbing.
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