Dinner party from hell serves up full gamut of human emotions Ann Treneman
This play by the 28-year-old award-winning Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill intrigues from the start. The set, brilliantly detailed, is the dining room of a middle-class couple, the table set for dinner, the centrepiece in pride of place, napkin rings very much in evidence.
Debora, wife of the politician Michael, prowls round the table, drinking a pre-dinner glass of white. Her bobbed hair has perfectly executed (and expensive) blonde highlights. Her make-up glows, her outfit — black and fashionable — feels expensive. On the third prowl, she decides the napkin rings are “too formal” and removes them. Her husband watches, warily.
The guests are late. When the three arrive, Bill and his wife Tamara with their son Curtis, in Canadian-winter heavy coats, they are full of excuses but, as it turns out, the real reason is that Bill didn’t want to come. What, he wondered, was the point of this strange meeting?
The table is set for six but only five are eating. The empty place is for Joel, Debora and Michael’s son, a gay teenager who committed suicide after being bullied at his high school. The bullies included, indeed were said to have been led, by Curtis, now looking totally miserable at the table, drinking a glass of milk, unable to eat the main dish because he is allergic to seafood but his mum forgot to mention it.
It is excruciating to watch this exercise in reconciliation and grief that takes place amid the crudités and pasta. Debora, an artist who works “in steel”, flicks between smothering niceties and raw fury. Michael, ever the politician, exists to find a middle path. Tamara, warm and rather naïve, decides quite early on to switch from drinking water to wine. Her husband, a bully himself, and abusive too, has way too many opinions. And Curtis, well, he’s the really interesting one.
This is a terrific play; 70 minutes long, taut and intriguing, with a scenario that feels fresh because the dialogue is realistic and continually surprising (although one or two details of the plot felt contrived).
Michael Yale directs with perfect pace and the set by Zahra Mansouri makes you feel that you, too, have been invited to this sad soirée. All the acting is good but Lucy Robinson as Debora and Lisa Stevenson as Tamara are exceptional.
It’s the dinner party from hell but oh so interesting; a huge subject condensed by Tannahill into two rather rushed courses. Do go if you get the chance. This one deserves a West End transfer.