As I sat viewing the stage and waiting for the house lights to dim, there was a certain sense of deja vu... a substantial dining table the principal element of a shadowy minimalist set ... was this a revival of Festen? These superficial similarities dissolved as the play got under way and Paige (Kareena Sims) used and abused her web-sourced Mephistophelean waiter (Marcus Wakely), the striking scarlet of her frankly breath-taking costume creating other demonic undertones. High production values were evident from the start, with Mark James' set design enhanced by Rose Dudley's lighting plot; the combined effect prophetically suggestive of a Last Supper, perhaps as depicted by Francis Bacon. The diners were clearly in for an uncomfortable evening, with Lars (Chris Sainty) firmly in Paige's sights and the hapless Wynne (Ali Patrick) never likely to see eye-to-eye with her hostess. It was also apparent that director Graeme Jennings had chosen a cast that could do justice to the playwright's satirical intentions; by the time Sian (Nicky Ubhi) and Hal (Adam Roberts) appeared from the symbolic off-stage fog, the audience was showing an appreciation of the comedy and keen to discover what culinary delights Paige had in store for her guests. An uninvited (and possibly nefarious) caller, Mike (Chris Reed), filled the remaining empty chair and provided something of an Everyman commentary on the other diners' shenanigans.
The part of Paige dominates the play and Kareena Sims had both the stage presence and command needed to sustain the role as she mocked self-regarding Lars and their guests. As the main recipient of her venom, Chris Sainty's depiction of a less than original thinker, regurgitating atavistic mantras, hit the mark while Ali Patrick's Wynne contrasted humorously with svelte and sophisticated Paige and Sian. As Sian, Nicky Ubhi portrayed the TV news anchorwoman with aplomb, deftly fielding barbed questions as to whether she was a 'proper' journalist (while doubting it herself) but increasingly exasperated with her partner's boorish ways. Adam Roberts was convincing as the complacent Hal, called to account by Paige for his adulterous misdeeds, while Chris Reed's Mike was another well-judged and endearing performance. Marcus Wakely's almost silent waiter was a suitably sinister attendant on the diners, reminiscent of the footman from Sartre's Huis Clos.
Moira Buffini has developed a reputation for using comedy to make serious points but, on the strength of this piece, it's not just satire; there is something of a morality play about it. It was my impression that both the director and cast had understood this and succeeded in highlighting that aspect of the play through thoughtful and effective characterisation and delivery. With fine contributions from wardrobe, properties and technical departments, this production will stay in my memory as some of the Lace Market Theatre's best work.