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Review of 'Dinner' by Moira Buffini, National Theatre, London

'Dinner' is brought to us by the sisters Moira (writer) and Fiona (director) Buffini and features a number of familiar faces from the stage and screen. Nicholas Farrell plays Lars, who has given up on his career in the city to pursue life as a writer of philosophical tomes. The success of his latest book 'Beyond Belief' is being celebrated by his wife Paige (Harriet Walter), who plans to hold a dinner party in his honour. At least, that is the apparent reason for the dinner party. Yet even as their guests arrive, events are slowly unravelling, setting up the tone of the rest of the play.

Ostensibly 'Dinner' begins as a farce, a comment on the pretensions of middle class convention. What is surprising, and refreshing, are the continually dark crevices Buffini explores to uncover deeper truths about the nature of polite society. We are treated to an early glimpse of this when Lars puts his philosophy to his guest Hal (a scientist) in a pre-dinner discussion: 'Would you rather consume or rot?... Do you want to eat or have things eat you?' Lars is something of a social Darwinist, content to let others fall by the wayside while he forges ahead.

Other characters also show darker sides to their personalities. Hal's new wife Sian is a journalist who has little compassion for the events that she reports on, proclaiming, 'People don't give a fuck about massacres and famines. They watch the news because they want to be reassured.' The husband of one of the guests has failed to show, having run off with his secretary.

At the heart of all this is the hostess, Paige. She can be as cold and unfeeling as any of the other characters, but it seems that her barbs and occasionally callous comments may nevertheless be driven by a sense of morality that the others lack. She finds a like-minded individual in van driver Mike, who chances upon the morass of sarcasm and recriminations that is Paige's dinner party, unaware that his presence will play a vital role in its outcome.

Mike seems to be the only character aware that something more profound is occurring than a social gathering. He condemns all of the guests initially, disgusted by their attitudes towards him, but finds fun in spinning a yarn about how he has just robbed next door when he is accepted as a guest. He has actually just crashed his van full of cakes. Despite the bizarre meal Paige has concocted, Mike is grateful. When Paige offers up the main course, live lobster, Mike 'liberates' his lobster into the ornamental pond. When she unveils the dessert, an assemblage she calls 'frozen waste', Mike happily chows down. Mike seems to be the most adept at handling relationships, and more than able to argue on the same level as the upper middle class 'intellectuals' that surround him.

The organic nature of the play means that it would spoil it to reveal too many of the details; suffice to say that the first half-hour is full of surprises. A production that could have been as staid and uninspiring as its subject matter--the social morass of the middle classes--turned out to have a real satirical bite to it. What the play turns out to be about is, I think, appreciation, and the final scene in particular communicates that. Perhaps the ending, bleak as it is, confirms an appreciation for life for the one who craves it most--Paige. I'll say no more than that, and recommend that you see this unusual play.