Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

21/01/2006 - 18/02/2006

Production Details

Written by Moira Buffini
Directed by Bruce Phillips

An artist, a scientist and a sexy TV newsreader are coming to dinner.

Paige, hostess extraordinaire, is celebrating the publication of her husband’s bestseller. The arrival of mysterious Mike, marooned in a foggy lane after crashing his van, provides an unexpected addition to the evening’s entertainment. A silent waiter, sourced from an obscure website, completes the picture. Primordial Soup is the first course – the dinner from hell begins …

Catherine Wilkin
Jeffrey Thomas
Michelle AmasBruce Phillips (covering for Jeff Kingsford-Brown)
Danielle Mason
Gregor McLennan

Designer Denis Hearfield
Lighting designer Jennifer Lal

Theatre ,

Comedy with bite

Review by John Smythe 27th Jan 2006

With a surname that sounds like a refined blend of broad comic buffo and psychological biffo, it’s appropriate that Welsh playwright Moira Buffini’s Dinner proves to be a dark comedy with lethal bite. Two familiar friends, a tangy drizzle of second wife and a surprising infusion of total stranger are served by an impeccable waiter on a ground of profound marital dysfunction.

Multi-layered yet deceptively simple in its construction, Dinner was commissioned by Britain’s National Theatre. It transferred to the West End and was nominated as Best New Comedy in the 2003 Olivier Awards.

Acutely cast, the play is delicately directed for Circa by Bruce Phillips, who stepped deftly into the role of fusty microbiologist Hal two days before opening when Jeff Kingsford-Brown suffered a detached retina. The Last Supper-like setting, albeit for six, stylishly designed by Denis Hearfield and lit by Jennifer Lal, becomes increasingly relevant.

Paige, intensely focused by Catherine Wilkin, is giving a meticulously planned dinner party to celebrate the success of Beyond Belief, a self-actualisation book by her futures trader-turned philosopher husband Lars, finely nuanced by Jeffrey Thomas.

As Lars’ recently rediscovered childhood sweetheart Wynne, a separatist feminist turned eroticist artist suddenly abandoned by her politician lover, Michele Amas brings a much-needed, if slightly daffy, humanity to proceedings. Except she believes Beyond Belief is a guidebook to life while Hal, fully claimed by Phillips, regards it as an anti-thought, fascist distortion of Buddhist morality.

Hal’s second wife, Sian, "news babe decorator of the rolling news", perfectly pitched by Danielle Mason, turns out to be well read and refreshingly honest. Stuck-in-a-ditch van-driver Mike, the uninvited guest, keeps everyone guessing in the challenging, wily and sardonic persona of Brian Sergent.

Right through to the shocking conclusion Gregor McLennan’s Waiter serves Paige’s Primordial Soup, Apocalypse of Lobster and Frozen Waste, and her non-culinary needs, with dispassionate professionalism.

Dinner’s delicate balance seems briefly endangered when its final phase is taken over by an impromptu speech parlour game, sparked by topics sealed in named envelopes by Paige. But by adding insight, deepening understanding and focusing key themes, the device ensures the twist at the end is dramatically felt.

As a comic, provocative and thought-provoking (sorry Lars) commentary on contemporary values that makes its audience ask, "What would I do?" at critical moments, Buffini’s Dinner gets Circa’s 2006 off to an excellent start.


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Tasty menace

Review by Lynn Freeman 25th Jan 2006

Guess who’s coming to dinner?  There’s Wynne the ‘provocative eroticist artist’ there’s ‘TV news babe’ sorry ‘journalist’ Sian and her aged microbiologist hubby Hal, there’s a guest who’s a surprise to everyone including himself – and of course, our hosts.  Indeed, the dinner is to celebrate the publishing success of Lars, sharemarket wizard turned philosopher. 

His wife, Paige, has spent weeks working on the perfect menu.  What she’s created really is a one off.  This, she declares, is her ‘statement’.  She has a lot to say, we learn to the others’ cost, as the napkins and dinner unfold.

Moira Buffini’s play is enticing from the start.  Who is this tall, dark and handsome waiter?  His relationship with the hostess – is there more to it than meets the eye?  Lars and Paige parry vicious insults that would feel right at home in the script of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Paige’s disdain though is not restricted to her husband and to his adoring the bike-riding, vegetarian ex lover, Wynne. 

Only the distinctly lower class Mike earns anything like respect from Paige, who has found to her cost that money really can’t buy you love, or happiness, or even fulfilment.  To give away any more would be sinful, since much of the deliciousness of the play comes with the constant surprises and revelations.

Equally delicious is the cast assembled by Bruce Phillips.  Catherine Wilkin is simply devastatingly as Paige – controlling, cruel and yet she lets us glimpse the young Paige so we know this seeming monster was not always thus.  Jeffrey Thomas invests Lars with a wonderfully frustrating degree of detachment yet, again, we discover the man he could have been if fate had not brought him and Paige together.  They are both abominable and both victims. 

Detachment is also the main characteristic of Sian, a tricky part played supremely well by Danielle Mason, and it’s a welcome return to the stage for Michele Amas as Wynne, who earns many of the best laughs with a charming performance.  Laughs also come thick and fast for Brian Sergeant, typecast as the loose canon that is Mike but doing it brilliantly.

Bruce Phillips has stepped in at the last moment to play Hal with the withdrawal of his original star but you wouldn’t know it.  Gregor McLennan is suitably handsome and mysterious as the Waiter, always hovering, somehow menacing.

The menu may be distasteful, but the script and performances are delicious and wickedly funny.  A tasty start to Circa’s year.


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Comedy macabre

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 23rd Jan 2006

Though human flesh is not on the menu you soon get the feeling that Moira Buffini’s scathingly funny dark comedy Dinner is going to rival Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover for the most disastrous evening ever spent round a dinner table.

The hostess, Paige, has invited her guests to a dinner on a foggy London night to celebrate the success of her husband’s Beyond Belief, a self-help book with philosophical overtones. Its psychobabble message is essentially do what you like and hang the consequences.

We learn quickly that all is not well between Paige and her husband Lars when she announces she hasn’t read his book and is waiting for the paperback so it won’t matter if she drops it in the bath. Her guests are Wynne (a vegetarian artist) whose MP husband has run just off "with a temp with a crush", and a microbiologist and his sexy young wife whom he describes as a "news babe" because she reads the TV news.

The empty place caused by the absent MP is filled by Mike, a van driver, who crashes in the fog and is invited to dinner when he asks to use the phone. This representative of the working class holds his own amongst the haute bourgeoisie, siding with Paige in her verbal warfare with Lars, which is fuelled by litres of wine. Like the other guests he has problems with her unusual menu, which starts with Primordial Soup, followed by Apocalypse of Lobster and a dessert of Frozen Waste, all of which are impeccably served by a silent and mysterious waiter.

"Post September 11 I felt I needed" said Moira Buffini, "to write about a world out of joint…it’s a tragedy really, but I get away with it because it’s so bloody funny." It’s certainly funny, and the world she depicts with vicious satirical wit is definitely out of joint but her ending is over-inflated with significance that it weakens its force.

Nevertheless it is a deliciously heartless comedy with a top-notch ensemble cast led by Catherine Wilkin in as ravishing form as she was for Hedda Gabler. She is the elegant Paige quietly and relentlessly revealing her hatred for Lars, who is excellently played with a sort of simpering smugness by Jeffrey Thomas. Michelle Amas once again with pinpoint accuracy plays the comedy and the tragedy of her role, the nutty Wynne, while Brian Sergent as Mike mines the role for the last drop of droll comedy.

Taking over the part of Hal at very short notice indeed Bruce Phillips enhances his own stylish production, as does Danielle Mason as Hal’s hard-bitten wife. Both actors make the sudden reversal of marital discord to marital harmony almost believable.  Gregor McLennan’s waiter is suitably enigmatic and could have easily stepped out of a play by either J.B. Priestley (for symbolic significance) or Agatha Christie (for entertaining mystery).

Highly recommended for those with strong stomachs and a taste for the macabre. 


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