Dinner will be the third time you’ve directed a comedy for us – and they all happen to be based around dinners in some way. Coincidence? Or is there something inherently funny about food?
Actually, I often balk at dinner table plays because my initial thought is "how untheatrical", "how domestic" and also "how the hell am I supposed to stage this without it getting really staid and visually uninteresting?”.
Food brings us together around a table – it’s the main event for Christmas, birthdays, family gatherings – and I suppose there is always, at least initially, an expectation that you will have a good time. Of course, family gatherings being what they are, this is not always the case.
But, at any dinner, as the food gets consumed, the wine gets poured out, and everyone gets a bit more honest, revelations and indiscretions are pretty much inevitable. Generally, in the theatre, what's revealed is that everyone is a mess and deeply unhappy and struggling to cope. You know there'll be tears before bedtime. Of course, that’s never happened in real life.
Dinner is a lot of fun, but there are some sharp political and psychological ideas in it too. What are the key ideas in it for you?
Well, I actually see Dinner as a kind of tragedy. I mean, it's essentially about suffering, about outwardly successful people with a serious spiritual and moral vacuum. There's not a lot that’s funny about that, except that, there is something about other people's suffering that is perversely funny. It's the blackest kind of comedy, one with a dangerously sharp knife's edge to it.
British theatre maker David Greig describes Moira Buffini as a metaphysical playwright because she's investigating the human condition. And Buffini herself holds as one of her guiding tenets that her characters don’t exist to facilitate a polemic. She’s not interested in having her characters make speeches on her behalf or anyone else's.
You’re working with STC Resident Designer Elizabeth Gadsby. Have you discussed where Dinner is headed visually? With dishes on the menu that include Primordial Soup and Apocalypse of Lobster, the writing seems to invite a heightened interpretation.
Elizabeth and I have collaborated on a number of opera and music works, and we are also working together on The Testament of Mary earlier in the year. Where we sit best together as a team is doing work that is large-scale, epic, heightened.
Our initial chats for Dinner have certainly been heading that way. The director and filmmaker Peter Greenaway (probably best known for The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover) is an artist both of us have drawn links to with this piece. The challenge will be how to create that sense of the epic in the Drama Theatre. It will require some pretty big gestures. We're going to have fun with that.
Moira Buffini is a member of a British theatre movement called Monsterism. It’s a term she coined with other playwrights who were getting bored of naturalistic plays set in empty black boxes, so it's safe to say Dinner will be exactly the opposite of that.
Dinner, 11 Sep – 28 Oct 2017, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
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