Monday, 17 July 2017
Theatre review: Dessert
Hugh and his wife Gill (Alexandra Gilbreath) are hosting a dinner for their American friends Wesley (Stuart Milligan) and Meredith (Teresa Banham) when all the lights suddenly go out and they find themselves in the middle of a home invasion.
Among the enemies Hugh’s made is Eddie (Stephen Hagan,) an injured former soldier who’s made light work of the house’s security and the fact that the sole full-time staff member is the easily confused Roger (Graham Turner,) a former trader who had a nervous breakdown, and whom Hugh and Gill now pat themselves on the back for giving a housekeeping job to. Eddie has broken into the house to tell the story of his father, who lost his life savings thanks to Hugh’s legal but morally questionable deals, and now has a fairly straightforward question: All he wants Hugh to do is tell him why he deserves the money he makes.
Dessert has evidently made it to the stage pretty quickly, and Nunn isn’t exactly a director known for hacking away at the text, so although it’s comparatively short the play still feels pretty baggy: The characters’ arguments go round in circles a lot as we build to the next plot twist, and the political point gets overstated in the process; while the attempts to bring Roger back into the story are quite clumsy. With a billionaire banker already a pretty easy target, Hugh is also very unsubtly villainous, smugly protesting his innocence in the face of the market’s mysterious workings even while his family and friends are in danger, and going out of his way to pin blame on everyone around him for anything that goes wrong.
But despite the plot holes and heavy-handedness I generally enjoyed Dessert; there’s well-judged touches of dark comedy, Nunn can still rack up the tension and if the numerous plot twists and turns are clumsy they’re also for the most part effective. There’s some good performances, Gilbreath giving a bit of humanity to a character with little to sympathise with, and Banham making Meredith amusingly clueless and blunt. He doesn’t feature much in the publicity, presumably to keep the show’s secrets, but Hagan is essentially the show’s lead as Eddie, whom he plays as mostly in control with only a hint of something over the edge. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Hagan on stage and while it doesn’t hurt that he’s not got any uglier, he’s also intense and watchable in the role. I was reminded how fixated I get with his mouth – he seems to do 90% of his acting with it (the other 10% is mostly eyes.) Dessert is heavy-handed and easy to pick holes in, but Nunn’s assembled a production that successfully plays to its strengths.
Dessert by Oliver Cotton is booking until the 5th of August at Southwark Playhouse’s Large Theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.