Like every other animal on the planet, humans need to eat in order to survive, but arguably no other species has developed such complicated social etiquettes around the consumption of food. Anthropologists will explain how, down the centuries, meals have been shared, though largely domestic affairs which have helped reinforce our place in the pecking order. This has become more complicated since some of our meals have shifted into the public space of a restaurant, where somebody else ends up doing the cooking and serving.
Arguably the hardest role is given to Blair Grandison who, as the waiter Samuel, ably portrays his growing stress behind a professional fixed smile.
As the title suggests, Robin Mitchell’s May I Have The Bill Please is focused on that potentially tricky point of any restaurant meal when the matter of payment arises. What is less obvious, at least from the advertising poster, is that the focus of the script isn’t the waiter, but on four diners – two couples who are on what we learn is a semi-regular meal out together. While they’re clearly known each other for years, that doesn’t mean sorting out the bill will prove easy.
In some respects, this has a hint of Men Behaving Badly – albeit “10 Years Later”. It’s a situation comedy, grounded on solid characterisations, that exploits some all-too-believable cracks in people’s relationships while ensuring there’s no fundamental change to the characters by the close. The humour – and this is a genuinely funny show – simply comes from watching how the characters reveal themselves while interacting with each other.
There’s no-nonsense Chris (John McColl), the self-declared “Pilton’s Poirot” who is determined not to pay an additional tip to the waiter when a service charge is already included on the bill. There’s his partner Sandra (Donna Hazelton), increasingly weary of his intransigence while proving equally stubborn – it’s she who determines that, on this occasion, everyone should just pay for what they ate. In marked contrast, there’s keen-to-please Michael (Edward Cory) and Emma (Lindsey Lee Wilson), neither as assertive as their friends, though not afraid to criticise them when Chris and Sharon pop outside for a nicotine boost.
A few stuttered lines notwithstanding – and this was an early performance – the cast are uniformly focused; that said, arguably the hardest role is given to Blair Grandison who, as the waiter Samuel, ably portrays his growing stress behind a professional fixed smile. In a deft directorial stroke, he also shows all the audience members to their seats before the show starts, which helps make you feel a safe part of this particular lunchtime dining experience. Perhaps he deserves to be on the poster after all.