Thursday, February 9, 2023


At Dinner by Rebecca Duke

Directed by Holly Johnson. Lighting and sound design James Tighe. Set and costume design Nell Fraser. ACT HUB’s Development Programme. ACT HUB. Spinifex Street Kingston. February 9-11 2023 Bookings:

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Thea Jade, Nakiys Xyrakis and Timothy Cusack in AT DINNER

As part of its HUB Learning Programme, ACT HUB has presented a new play by emerging playwright Rebecca Duke. I is a quirky and deft three actor about two young people who are having dinner together after some time spent apart. Anna (Thea Jade) has moved to Melbourne to study at university, while boyfriend Eden (Timothy Cusack) is approaching the end of his university studies in Canberra.

Nakiya Xyrakis as Pearl and Timothy Cusack as Eden

Duke has set her one act play in a restaurant, where waitress Pearl (Nakiya Xyriakis) attends the couple. One is struck immediately by a tension that hovers between the two diners. Anna has arrived after a ten hour bus journey from Melbourne and Eden finds himself quickly stepping on eggshells as he tries to navigate the awkwardness . Duke cleverly creates a sense of mystery and curiosity in the conversation. Jade effectively captures a mood of detachment while Cusack’s Eden flounders in his gauche attempt to placate Anna’s intractable mood. Cusack’s forced dialogue suggests a certain artificiality in the situation. Just as it seems that the dinner date is on the road to nowhere, Duke introduces a distraction with suspicious  observance of an older man and a young woman at a nearby table or a request for food that is not on the menu or a mix of red wine and diet coke. It is enough to suggest that Duke’s play is quirkily akin to theatre of the absurd, partly in the tradition of Pinter and not dissimilar to the absurdity of an Ionesco play. Having said this, Duke’s drama is entirely original. Her dramatic devices unsettle perception. The involvement of the waitress in the couple’s deliberately staged scenario propels the play towards its ultimate intention to play out their bizarre game.

Director Holly Johnson carefully maintains a naturalistic tone to the relationship until Duke’s plot takes an unsuspecting twist. As I watched the action unfold, I felt that I needed to be jolted out of complacent observance of two people in a restaurant earlier to arouse my interest in where the play might have been heading and how the relationship might evolve.  Each moment is a stepping stone towards the ultimate revelation of the play’s intention and the characters’ unanticipated purpose. Perhaps an earlier and subtler twist in the action could galvanize the curiosity sooner.

Thea Jade as Anna in At Dinner

This is a purely personal response of course but Duke’s At Dinner took a little longer than I would have liked to engage me in its touch of absurdity. It is well acted by Jade and Cusack with support from Xyriakis and Johnson directs with a sureness and certain understanding of Duke's covert narrative. At Dinner is the work of an emerging playwright flexing her imagination and writing a piece of theatre that has the potential to intrigue and surprise while also exploring the idiosyncracy of human interaction. Duke is currently enrolled in a Master’s degree in writing for performance at the National Institute of Dramatic Art and this early work demonstrates an inventive maturity that suggests that audiences will be hearing much more about Rebecca Duke’s playwrighting. It is ACT HUB’s Hub Learning programme that offers an important platform for emerging artists and creatives to develop and continue to learn.