That most middle class of events, the dinner party, can be a night of stimulating conversation, wonderful company and dramatic revelation. Sadly, however, the dinner party at the centre of this play is none of the above.
A tale, told at a dinner party, signifying nothing
Sheffield University Theatre Company invites us here to attend a dinner party. The dinner table is set or rather, the set is a dinner table, and the chairs are laid out, four along the table and the rest in what turns out to be a sparsely populated auditorium. We meet four young women aged 20, formerly school buddies and now coming together to share updates on how their lives are progressing. As the evening unfolds, old tensions rub against new possibilities in their relationships.
But the conversation is mind-numbingly dull, discussing no real issues of interest or consequence, with no human interest uncovered. Words flow like gravy, splattering everywhere, and the result is a horrible mess.
One might assume that a play about a dinner party, set at a dining table, might at least include a good dinner. Instead, guests are presented first with two prawns in a cocktail, and then with what seems to be steamed vegetables. Are they all on a diet? The paltry fare on offer at least matches the paltry nature of the conversation. Much of the early talk is about parents. The retired ones who have bought a boat. The rock-and-roll banker. Why are students so often desperate to talk about their parents on stage? I suppose it at least reciprocates some parents’ desire to talk endlessly about their children. But it makes for dull conversation. The rest is little better, be it the speeding tickets or the gay partners. The actors, even the classy Liz, do not seem able or particularly willing to engage us with subtle characterisation or emotion. The most interesting bit is a discussion about how fast turkeys can run.
It hardly seems a good idea to annoy the audience before the performance even starts. I queue up with a handful of others, who look like they might be parents of the cast – the people who have travelled up, booked expensive accommodation, and supported their daughters' play by coming along. The door is flung open and the Producer appears, barking a request for tickets. I explain that the very efficient venue staff have already done that bit. We all troop in to find that the best eight seats, the only ones with a good straight view of the stage, have been commandeered by Producer and friends. My judgement is made on what comes from the stage but, when an audience (partly of parents?) is treated with such contempt at their entrance, why should I be surprised that a lack of consideration continues into the performance?
If I had been invited to this dinner party, I would have offered to help with the washing up as a pretext, jumped out of the kitchen window, over the bins and vaulted the fence to escape. The same opportunity is sadly not afforded to me as a spectator, and so I am left enduring a tale, told at a dinner party, signifying nothing.