An accomplished cast and creative team overcome the challenges of an overcomplicated and proselytising script to produce some interesting moments. Dessert is a long time coming in this dramatic serving.
Dessert, its world premiere season now playing at the Southwark Playhouse, is written by Oliver Cotton and directed by multi award winner Trevor Nunn. Dessert is the second play from Cotton whose first piece, Daytona opened in 2014.
The title is a clever play on words referring both to the next course at the dinner party we see commence as the play begins, but also on topic in connection with people getting their ‘just desserts’ in a financially uneven world.
Without spoiling the plot too much, there is a great deal of proselytising about the imbalances and inequity in the vast majority earning in a year what high earners make by Wednesday lunch. What overthrows this social discourse is a series of plot twists as a modern day Robin Hood seeks to extort money from the rich to lighten the load of the poor…including his own father.
The set is a striking extraction of a dining room in a stately home and has been designed by Rachel Stone. The space is resplendent with verdure green walls, a sparkling chandelier and large pieces of classic artwork. Clearly the two couples at the table are from the moneyed section of society.
Their opening conversations overlap each other. The content of the conversation is not as important as the intent and the relationship between the diners. The men are involved in a game of classic one-up-man-ship with the host is in the lead.
Hosting the dinner is Sir Hugh, played by Michael Simkins, and his wife, Gill (Alexandra Gilbreath). Both actors embrace their characters, gradually peeling away the layers of their personas to reveal the authentic rawness that drives them.
Their guests are American businessman Wesley and his wife, Meredith and they are not a happy couple. Stuart Milligan and Theresa Banham play this dissonant couple subtly and the relationship is well defined. Milligan is suitable bombastic as the businessman dripping with bonhomie. Banham provides a welcome lightness with her portrayal of the social niceness of Meredith as represented in her friendly attitude toward the dangerous surprise dessert course guest.
The cook and, seemingly, servant of all trades, Roger, is played by Graham Turner. There is something drastically awry with Roger, and as the play continues he breaks down, his actions pivotal to the plot and the outcome. Turner commits well to his character, even when the action is taken to extremes.
Lastly, the surprise visitor. In an operation that turns out to have been a long time in the planning, Eddie bursts into the room. He is an Afghanistan veteran who lost a leg in the war and whose father lost his life savings in a financial deal with a firm run by Sir Hugh. Stephen Hagan is Eddie and he epitomises danger, and strength, from the start.
Just as Eddie dominates the story, Hagan dominates the stage. He captures the audience with his energy and strength as he weaves the complex dialogue from one crisis to the next.
Whilst the issue is a sentiment worthy of discussion, there are too many twists in the tale that support the discussion, and interest flags as the complications pile up. The cast and director make the most of a script that has given them many challenges.