“The key to civilization is to fight the impulse to just chuck it all”
For so long Michael Spence in Holby City, Hari Dhillon’s ventures onto the stage have been sparse indeed but it’s clear that he has high standards – Pulitzer Prize-winning plays about middle-class dinner parties. 2013 saw him take on Ayad Akthar’s Disgraced (2013 winner) for the Bush and then Broadway and now he stars in Donald Margulies’ Dinner With Friends (2000 winner) for the Park for director Tom Attenborough.
It’s a tale of marriage and mid-life crises – Gabe and Karen are happily, well smugly, married but their satisfied outlook is shaken when the relationship of their friends Tom and Beth crumbles in front of them. Interestingly, Margulies explores what happens to the people in the middle of break-ups, especially when they’re mates with both parties. Beth has got there first, announcing the split at a dinner at Gabe and Karen’s, but Tom soon turns up to get his side across.
Shaun Dooley and Sara Stewart are very good as the slightly nauseating pair, even as their certainties are somewhat rocked and their innate insensitivities appallingly exposed. Dhillon and Finty Williams have a tougher job as the riven Tom and Beth, the validation he craves in pursuing a newer younger lover coming frustratingly late, the drip-drip feed of information scarcely credible and too forcedly shaping our perception of their characters.
The second act moves from New York apartments to the Martha’s Vineyard party (well designed by David Woodhead) 12 years earlier where Gabe and Karen first introduced Tom and Beth to each other but again the artificial construction works against real emotional involvement. The self-satisfaction of pretty much everyone concerned wore me down early on and so I struggled to connect with Dinner With Friends, even when it intermittently came up with something interesting to say.