As the Bible says in 1 Timothy 6, verses 9-10 “those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. By craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” Yet, we all do want money. Millions are spent every week on various lotteries. The strange thing is, that wherever we end up on life’s rich list, there is always someone who we envy for having more. And occasionally this envy can spill over into action as demonstrated by Oliver Cotton in his play Dessert at the Southwark Playhouse.
In a rather nice country house, four people are enjoying a dinner party: Sir Hugh Fennell (Michael Simkins) and his lovely wife Gill (Alexandra Gilbreath) are entertaining fellow financier Wesley Barnes (Stuart Milligan) and his equally lovely wife Meredith (Teresa Banham). The meal, cooked and served by the Fennell’s eccentric factotum Roger (Graham Hislop) has been delicious and, as the four wait for their dessert, two things happen. The first being Wesley finally noticing the latest addition to Hugh’s painting collection. A portrait that, if its provenance is proved and it turns out to be a genuine Giorgione, could be worth millions of pounds. The second event is less pleasant as the party is invaded by Lance Corporal Eddie Williams (Stephen Hagan). Eddie is a man on a mission and that mission is to avenge his father who lost his life’s savings by investing in one of Hugh’s companies that then proceeded to go ‘belly up’. Eddie holds the household hostage while he tries to make Hugh understand the enormity of the wrong he has perpetrated on Eddie’s father and millions like him.
Before saying anything else about Dessert, I want to raise a massive cheer to set designer Rachel Stone for not only creating an absolutely fabulous Georgian style dining room but, at the same time seeming to double the size of the Playhouse’s stage. Director, Sir Trevor Nunn makes full use of the space and keeps things moving in his usual dexterous way.
Dessert is an intense play that really pins its colours to its sleeve as to the position it adopts with regards to wealth, power and influence. The plot wanders a bit but in a good way and I was completely engrossed in the play to the point that I was actually surprised when the interval came up. There was a lot of humour in the writing, but also some very emotional moments that really grip the watching audience. I suppose my one criticism is that the writing is really skewed in favour of Eddie and the downtrodden working man which leaves the financiers little room for manoeuvre as they try to justify their salaries and bonuses.
Eddie is a traditional working class lad. He probably joined the army as there was nothing else for him and now, after an incident in Afghanistan, he is home, one leg amputated and trying to help his financially bereft parents. Stephen Hagan is an absolute delight to watch as Eddie. The character is beautifully written – erudite and intelligent with an unexpectedly fine knowledge of art and a definite code of conduct – and Stephen really breathes life into him. He has that way of talking and shouting that – if you have ever been in or had interaction with NCOs’ in the military – is at once recognisable. It’s difficult to explain but it’s in the tone of voice and the emphasis on certain words or syllables. Two minutes into Eddie’s arrival I felt like I was back as an ‘erk’ on the parade ground at RAF Swinderby. That isn’t to say that Stephen’s portrayal makes Eddie a standard ‘grunt’. No, Eddie is a fully functioning human being who, in other circumstances, the dinner party guests might have got on with very well. The one thing that let Stephen down was his salute at the end which was definitely not up to army standard. Apart from that, Stephen put in a first class performance throughout. This is true of the other characters and it really feels as if there is a history between each of the couples. Things unsaid and resentments built up over the years which, with Eddie acting as the catalyst, come to the surface and change those relationships completely.
Finally, I really, really enjoyed Dessert. Every aspect from the writing to the performances worked really well. As I said before my one concern was the definite bias in the writing which left little room for maneuver for anyone trying to defend the financiers but, apart from that, I think Dessert is one of those plays that starts a conversation that keeps going long after the show is finished and the theatre is closed and for that, I salute the entire production.
Since July 2014, I've seen and reviewed 588 shows altogether. 2017 was a fairly quiet year with a total of 132 shows visited by yours truly.
So, in the best traditions of end of the year ideas, here is my list of the top 10 shows that I've seen this year. Please remember, this is my list not anybody else's and if you don't agree with the pick, well, what can I say?
1.Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Bridewell Theatre This story of friendship and hope took two drag queens and a trans woman from Sydney to Alice Springs, in a big pink bus. Along the way, the met new friends and face rampant homophobia. SEDOS brought every element of the show together beautifully, and to a standard that you would expect to see in the West End. Sold out virtually as soon as it was announced, this was the ‘must see production of the year. 2.La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon Theatre This is was a touring production of a show that demonstrates the importance of family and how much a parent will s…
Southern Baptist Sissies
Above the Stag is a theatre that specialises in putting on LGBT+ shows. I’ve been there a couple of times previously and seen some very well produced and very funny plays about gay life. So, I was really looking forward to another visit last night to see their latest show, the European premiere of Southern Baptist Sissies by Del Shores.
This is the story of four people emerging from childhood and becoming adults. These boys are all from the great state of Texas – the ‘buckle’ in the bible belt – and all are regular attendees at their small town Baptist church presided over by a real old fashioned ‘wrath of God’ style preacher (Stephen Parker). The four boys are all really good friends who each bring something different to the group. So, there is preacher’s son Mark (Jason Kirk) the thinker, TJ (Daniel Klemens) the brawn, Andrew (Hugh O’Donnell) the introverted and…
A theatre show is often like a swan. Out on stage, all is serene and beautiful whilst backstage there is a hive of activity going on. There have been various shows written about life backstage at a theatre – Noises Off springs to mind, though I’ve still not got around to seeing it. However, if you would like to see life backstage during a Christmas show, then you can do no better than toodle off to the Waterloo East Theatre to see Shaun Kitchener’s play Christmas Farce.
Thirty minutes – or in theatrical parlance, The Half – before curtain up and Alice (Natalie Lester) is the only person in the Green Room of a regional theatre. The fact it is Christmas is demonstrated not only by Alice’s OTT festive jumper but also with the gaudy decorations festooning the place. These are the handiwork of back-stage worker Makenzie (Marc-Gee Finch) and, while they are a tad tacky, they do add a sort of desperate fe…