State Theatre Company Review: After Dinner

Who: State Theatre Company
When: 7 – 29 April
Where: Dunstan Playhouse
Tickets: $38 – $74 here

Written by Andrew Bovell, the man behind The Secret River and Things I Know to be True, our expectations were high. After Dinner is set in the late 1980s and it’s Friday night at an empty pub bistro. Before long, there are two tables full. Paula, Dympie, and Monika (Ellen Steele, Jude Henshall, and Elena Carapetis respectively), who work in the same office and are here for a meal before the band, and Stephen and Gordon (Nathan Page and Rory Walker), a couple of blokes who don’t really know each other very well. Over the course of the night, the tables mingle, broken relationships are explored, and everyone lets loose.

Jude Henshall and Ellen Steele.jpg
Jude Henshall and Ellen Steele. Photographed by Chris Herzfeld

After Dinner captured the zeitgeist of the 80s in Australia. The set design was, as always, excellent and combined with the costuming and music it transports you back in time. This is driven home by tongue in cheek references to the new paperless world of credit cards and whispers about the illegality of homosexuality. However, although the characters got comfortable and revealed themselves and their personalities more, the storyline didn’t really develop.

It felt as if director Corey McMahon and assistant director Alira McKenzie-Williams were going for a kind of Seinfeld-esque play about nothing in the way that the characters played off of each other and instead their personalities drove the storyline. In order to maintain this nothing-ness, the characters were over dramatised. They are intended to be intense and the actors each played their parts well, but these grating personalities were ultimately just a little too much. The dramatisation made it less realistic and it would have been better if they were played down a little to feel more relatable.

Elena Carapetis, Nathan Page, Rory Walker and Ellen Steele.jpg
Elena Carapetis, Nathan Page, Rory Walker and Ellen Steele. Photographed by Chris Herzfeld

There were some very funny moments that drove After Dinner. With on the beat one liners and excellent comedic timing. The exaggeration of the characters’ personalities was strongest here, with many of the jokes dependent on their individual quirks. When towards the end some of the characters slow dance, there is a sense of familiar inner cringe that everyone has felt.

Overall, After Dinner was a cohesive performance and all the elements that make a good production were there, and strong. It was the lack of direction in the storyline that made the play feel stagnant. Despite this, it’s a good laugh and a fun, digestible theatre experience.

3 out of 5 stars

Natalie Carfora and Rachel Wong

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