|Thea Jade as Anna|
in At Dinner by Rebecca Duke
ACT Hub, 2023
At Dinner by Rebecca Duke. ACT Hub at Causeway Hall, Kingston, Canberra, February 9-11, 2023.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
At Dinner – or rather “at DINNER” – could be called "The Cancelling Game" or perhaps the more sophisticated "Dangerous Liaison".
It’s frightening to realise, watching this play written and directed today by such young people, that nothing has changed in my 82 years. Anna and Eden are ‘right’ for each other because they both enjoy, as a skilled game, manipulating others’ assumptions that people are normally honest.
But then, as IMDB online reminds us, in the popular TV series, Dangerous Liaisons, “A pair of scheming ex-lovers attempt to exploit others by using the power of seduction. TV adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' classic 18th Century novel 'Les Liaison Dangereuses'.
So Rebecca Duke and Holly Johnson are in good artistic company with Richard Brinsley Sheridan (The School for Scandal 1777) and you could say even William Shakespeare in The Comedy of Errors.
Obviously my ideals about how modern people should behave online and at dinner are simply naïve. And that’s no joke. As the company describes their play:
After some months apart, a young couple go out to dinner at a restaurant. At first, Anna appears to be stuck in a dead end relationship with her high-school boyfriend Eden. As the night progresses, however, it becomes increasingly clear that Eden is out-matched by Anna and tangled up in a situation over which he has little control.
'At Dinner' is a serious, funny, and twisted examination of modern love.
The writing and the directing are a great example of the ‘less is more’ rule. Thea Jade does an exquisite performance of every little nuance of Anna’s expressions and mannerisms which she uses to undermine the expectations of both Eden and the waitress, Pearl – giving Timothy Cusack and Nakiya Xyrakis every opportunity to read things the wrong way, which they succeed in doing very well.
This quality in the acting makes the play pass on a message at a different level for denizens of the digital world of the web: live performance is real – you can never trust TikTok, nor even what you see on any screen, where editing and post-production rule the roost. But when Nakiya fell down and Thea and Tim rushed to help her, I instantly felt for her and them – and then in a minute realised this was written in the script. Only live theatre can do this, (though I was always a bit concerned about Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello).
For me at least, then, At Dinner in barely an hour offers much that is “serious, funny, and twisted”, and is well worth recommending.