Review: After Dinner (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 15 – Mar 7, 2015
Playwright: Andrew Bovell
Director: Imara Savage
Cast: Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Rebecca Massey, Josh McConville, Helen Thomson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
As our societies become increasingly concerned with political correctness, theatre seems to have to reach back through the annals of time to locate comedies that appeal to wide audiences, and ones that do not disrupt any of our delicate sensibilities. Contemporary subject matter is replaced with nostalgia, and we can laugh at days gone by in the safety of imagining that things have improved since. Andrew Bovell’s 1988 play After Dinner is a harmless piece about loneliness and sex. It does not resonate with great poignancy, but it does strike a chord with accurate depictions of human emotion and behaviour.

The production’s core feature is its extraordinary cast. All five actors are brilliant comics and they take the opportunity to showcase their very best under the generous direction of Imara Savage, who cleverly places focus on performance above all else. The script and its humour have aged significantly, but Savage’s team apply a modern interpretation that gives an unexpected edge to what could have been a desperately clichéd farce.

Helen Thomson plays Monika with magnificent aplomb. There is a fearless abandon to her approach that gives the show an air of wildness and decadence, encouraging the crowd to indulge in the text’s many mischievous, and occasionally blue, jokes. Thomson’s extravagant sense of humour is infectious and irresistible, and the almost ridiculous bigness of her performance is given solid support by a gentle empathy she invests into her character’s underlying sadness. The role of Stephen is played by Josh McConville, who manages to miraculously marry sleaze with sweet, creating a persona that is as repulsive as he is charming. The actor’s physicality is perfectly exploited (with the help of stunning work on wigs by David Jennings) to create an appearance and a movement vocabulary that is nothing short of hilarious, and very evocative indeed, of a kind of unfortunate barfly from the era.

Design elements of the production are effective but less than ambitious. The look and sound of the work is surprisingly tame for a decade that is associated with poor taste and general gaudiness, but fortunately, all the action that takes place on stage is anything but beige. Beneath the energetic and incessant provision of laughter, is a view into modern lives, and the challenges we experience with issues of intimacy. Instead of after dinner tribute bands, we talk today, about hook up apps and sexting, but continue to be confounded by the search for love and some of its illusions of fulfillment. With the unfathomable advances in information technology, communications have taken over every aspect of every second, yet loneliness is more present than ever before.