Review: Dessert, Southwark Playhouse

“I need to change what I can accept”

I only booked for Dessert at the Southwark Playhouse because of the extraordinary Alexandra Gilbreath, one of our finest – and somewhat unheralded – actors. I was no real fan of Oliver Cotton’s previous play Daytona and I’m a couple of decades too young to be excited by the prospect of Trevor Nunn directing. And lest you think me harsh, this was borne out by the audience in SE1 being much more like a typical Chichester crowd than I’ve ever seen here before.

And Dessert more than matches up to the billing by taking place during the final course of a dinner party hosted by an uber-wealthy British couple for an uber-wealthy American couple whose main topic of conversation is the number of millions a chance find of a painting can be flogged for. The menu is interrupted by a visitor but as so much of the play hinges on this late arrival, discretion will be deployed here. 

Suffice to say, it sets the scene for an insufferable treatise on the evils of the world of high finance and the most heavy-handed examination of the type of person it takes to succeed there. Cotton does little to flesh out his transatlantic archetypes (realised smarmily well by Michael Simkins and Stuart Milligan) but essentially they are just props to illustrate the bluntly argued proselytising of Stephen Hagan’s interloper.

This is the kind of play where a character says “I’m not here to debate you” and then spends 20 minutes (at least) painstakingly explaining precisely why he has popped up unannounced at this soirée and it proves about as much fun as you’d think that would be. A late deviation into hysterical melodrama tips the play closer to farcically enjoyable but even that is snatched away by the return of dull dialogue.

Gilbreath is sorely underused but Teresa Banham fares a little better as the wife of the American with a casual honesty to her every pronouncement. And I feel duty-bound to say that whilst I didn’t enjoy myself at all, others at this preview ovated. But for me – defrost something out of the freezer, get a takeaway, treat yourself to that restaurant you always thought was a bit pricey, just find something else to do for Dinner.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 5th August


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