“Don’t you think I should be wearing underwear for this?”
The major stresses and ongoing strife of family life in all its messiness is at the heart of Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal, the sole US input into the main HighTide programme, which has already played a short run at Bath’s Ustinov theatre. Taking the idea that much of importance happens around the dinner table, LeFranc explores 80 years of a couple’s life through five generations of a family in an ambitiously sprawling framework which sees time following an anything-but-linear path, swathes of dialogue overlapping noisily with each other and a ton of food. And through the cacophony, it does manage to become something rather exhilarating.
It’s a dizzying experience though, and Michael Boyd’s direction manages to somehow embrace the audience into this strange world but keep us discombobulated within it. Sam and Nicole are the couple whose initial meeting in a diner is swiftly followed by the ‘ding’ that indicates passage of time and we see that they’re married with kids and so on and so forth, each ‘ding’ changing something which further complicates the ever-growing family and their troubled dynamic, which essentially boils down to life’s a bitch and then you die, during a silent Last Supper montage. Oh and yes, you will end up like your mother.
But the way in which the three pairs of actors who play the couple at different points – Lindsey Campell and James Corrigan’s youthful enthusiasm, Kirsty Bushell and Jo Stone-Fewings’ middle-aged slump, and then Diana Quick and Keith Bartlett’s poignant decline into the indignities of diminishing old age – is skilfully done. They all also play a fast-moving swirl of additional characters who we’re constantly trying to keep track of as the family tree spreads its branches far and wide, yet the potential for families to ruin each other’s day remains undiluted. It doesn’t say too much that is new but structurally it is quite the piece of work that makes it something to look out for.