Dinner With Friends, Park Theatre, review: ‘sophisticated and symbolic’

Dinner with Friends. Picture: David Monteith-Hodge / Photographise

Dinner with Friends. Picture: David Monteith-Hodge / Photographise - Credit: Archant

This witty take on modern marriage and friends makes you think, but not too deeply, says Jill Truman.

Funny and serious, superficial and profound, this light-hearted examination of the complexities and contradictions of contemporary western marriage and its connections with friendship, parenthood, sex and divorce is set in a tasteful kitchen-diner in Martha’s vineyard but could as well be situated in Hampstead.

Donald Margulies’ insightful script is very funny: mocking the pretentions of hosts, Karen and Gabe, two foodies who constantly refer, with patronizing romanticism, to their frequent visits to Italy. Sara Stewart and Shaun Dooley give faultless performances of this typical middle-class, middle-aged, financially comfortable, happily-married couple. Their easy familiarity, their balance of marital squabbling and physical affection is perfectly judged.

But it’s slowly revealed that the success of their relationship is dependent upon the presence of other happily-married couples to applaud and confirm it. Tom and Beth, an edgier, more sexually-motivated pair supply this function. Hari Dhillon gives a convincingly restless portrayal of Tom, a successful lawyer experiencing the mid-life limitations - particularly sexual – of married life. Finty Williams is a lively, attractive Beth, a new age artist of dubious talent. The two couples have been close friends for twelve years: holidayed together, eaten and drunk together and brought up their children together.

Then, at one merry dinner party, it becomes clear that Tom and Beth’s marriage is on the rocks. By ceasing to conform to the foursome’s comfortable pattern they break it up. Although both are anxious to maintain the friendship, this proves impossible because its entire basis has been questioned. After the initial trauma, Tom and Beth are both delighted with their new lifestyles, forcing Karen and Gabe to question their own relationship. What will happen next is anybody’s guess. The play provides no answers but makes clear there is no happily-ever-after - especially for the children.

Tom Attenborough’s energetic production, in tune with the wit of the writing, never flags. The second half, when events and dialogue are darker and more thoughtful, the pace is slower. But this is no tragedy: humour prevails.

The elegant set (David Woodhead) is in perfect harmony with the production’s style managing to be at once realistic and symbolic of our times and mores. It has an Ikea-like simplicity which enables nifty scene changes and the whole amounts to a sophisticated and entertaining production, making audiences laugh and think – but not too deeply.

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Rating: 4/5 stars

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