Kate Cherry (director)
Heath Ledger Theatre
reviewed by Neville Cohn
To suggest that the dinner hostess is angry is an understatement. Within moments of curtain-rise, it’s apparent that she is seething. Her bile-filled fury and contempt for her guests are ever present.
Initially, we see her and a butler hired for the evening. She gives him what looks like a very substantial number of bank notes, so many that one would have to wonder whether working as a butler is a very much more lucrative way of earning a living than as a critic.
It soon becomes clear that our hostess doesn’t get along well with her husband. Indeed, as the evening wears on, she doesn’t seem to get on with anyone. She comes across as bitterness personified.
‘Friends’ arrive, among them a glamorous TV newsreader, her scientist husband Hal, a former hippy Wynne with a torn stocking – and, later, knocking at the door, a fellow who claims to have been in a truck accident. Perhaps to bolster his self-esteem, he spins the line that he’s a burglar. He isn’t, just a truck driver. He is also invited in.
Guests are seated at a long table which, like the chairs, is made of a transparent plastic material. As the play, set in the conservatory, unfolds, the table and diners revolve slowly.
It’s an evening of ugliness in both social and gastronomic terms. The soup is revolting – could it be stagnant water with ‘things’ in it? Live lobsters are brought in on platters. Diners are expected to place them in a pot of boiling water. Some can’t face that prospect and tip them into a pond in the garden. The ‘mist’ that rolls in whenever the door to the garden is opened, is so over the top, though, that one expects a zombie or other such horror manifestation to emerge from it. The dessert is ‘Frozen Waste’, the chief ingredient being just that.
At this dinner party from Hell, apart from what passes for food, there are lavish helpings of moral ugliness with bitterness aplenty, garnished with envy and plain rudeness.
The ending is completely unpredictable, at once shockingly violent and entirely mystifying.
Laurels to Alison van Reeken who is a delightful Wynne, the most human of that sad company. Kenneth Ransom as the eerily silent butler holds his tongue until almost the very end – and Stuart Halusz gives spot-on characterisation as the fellow who knocks at the door and pretends to be other than he really is. Rebecca Davis does well, too, as the flinty, glamorous TV newsreader. Lars, husband of the hostess, fits seamlessly into his role as does Greg McNeill as Hal, the scientist.
Trent Suidgeest designed the set as well as lighting which did much to enhance the moment.