THE DINNER PARTY
Theatre at Baddow
Mary Redman was at the Parish Hall ...
In my eyes Neil Simon can do no wrong even if some of his plays are stronger than others. I love the wry yet forensic expert way in which he neatly skewers the all-too-human condition so that lines that get a laugh have a background of sad recognition. His way with dialogue is summed up with “If a mouse loves a maggot what's wrong with that?”
So to see this play of his that I hadn't seen before was a treat thanks to TAB/s production directed by Pauline Saddington. First of all the set. Once again a miniature masterpiece from the ever-reliable David Saddington whose motto is less is more. With a Paris restaurant of deep wine red velvet drapes contrasting with black and a minimally furnished set of dining table, chaise longue and sideboard with drinks and canapés, it worked. The double doors upstage centre allowed the cast to make an entrance as our eyes were drawn to them.
While acknowledging that it's a lot easier than attempting French or American accents I would disagree a bit with Pauline's decision to make the characters English. It is set in Paris and the characters all have French names.
One thing I did enjoy was the tinkling piano music beforehand which became Big Band later. Apparently the title of one number was Peace, Peace which is the last thing that emerges in this play. All the characters have previous connections in marriages or relationships brought together by a mysterious person who sets them there and leaves the mixture to brew.
First to arrive was Kenton Church's Claude sometimes conversational rather than projecting his words outwards. Followed by the theatrical treasure that is Bob Ryall playing Albert a car rental firm owner. An ordinary bloke, often ill-at-ease and clumsy in the upmarket surroundings, he sent his performance right through to the back row of the audience.
The final masculine character to arrive was Roger Saddington's sophisticated boutique owner Andre, a performance that pointed the comedy lines with aplomb.
Caroline Froy's Mariette was apparently in her late 50s but appeared much younger, her only drawback being a tendency to swallow lines.
Jean Speller's spiky ex-wife of Albert gave as good as she got in order to get her man back again. Helen Quigley as Gabrielle made an eyecatching entrance in a stunningly tight and clinging lipstick red frock and proceeded to sort out a few people in the second act.
I did begin to ponder why I felt a bit let down by lines that should have got laughs not doing so, plus flattened projection. This was the second night of the run, which is notorious for amateur groups lacking the energy of the first and last nights. Professionals know how to take this in their stride and up their energy levels accordingly.
In addition the stage at TAB is a tricky one for casts to project on because upstage above them is a void which voices can all too easily rise up into and stay there. One to look forward to is Dad's Army in the Autumn.