An episode of the animated comedy Family Guy comes to mind with regards to Swing By Around 8. An old friend of housewife Lois comes to visit her, together with her partner. For reasons connected with Lois’ past, her husband Peter thinks the four of them will engage in an orgy. When this turns out not to be the case, an already slightly awkward evening becomes all the more embarrassing. In this comedy of a different sort, Matt (Maanuv Thiara) and Katherine (Maisie Black) are hosting what on the surface is a dinner for two others, Elliott (Paul Boichat) and Amelia (Rebecca Drake).
The plot is somewhat predictable, and the slow start is not so much problematic as merely indicative of the situation at hand: these are characters who have not met before and are unsure of how to conduct themselves. This underlying uncertainty doesn’t disappear during the course of the show, and a rather abrupt ending, while amusing, doesn’t entirely satisfy. But, as I hope I will never tire of saying, it is better for a production to leave an audience wanting more than to outstay its welcome.
I loved the subtlety of this play. Whilst Amelia, for instance, does end up not knowing her limits and drinking to excess, even her conduct at its worst has some degree of decorum and restraint: nobody is injured and nothing is broken – smashed plates, I have come to discover, are sometimes a metaphor for a play as a whole. That everything remains intact here is symbolic of the tightness of this production.
A jocular script from Jess Bray turns Matt and Katherine’s dinner table into Double Entendre Central, with sufficient pauses to allow enough time for the penny to drop for slow coaches like me. There’s something very British about not being able to blurt out one’s thought processes out loud, and while an off-stage character is described as one who “skirts around the issues”, the same could well be said of those on-stage.
The comedy goes up a few notches with the arrival of a policeman. In particular, the ensuing irrational panic is telling, and very many people will have been in a situation involving the imagining of a very bleak outcome to current circumstances, only for such fears to be completely unfounded. An early ‘icebreaker’, a drinking game called Never Have I Ever, is especially memorable, if only for its one-upmanship.
Matt and Katherine, I felt, complemented each other, at least from a dramaturgical perspective: he was uptight and tetchy, she was flirtatious and impressionable. Overall, this good, short and sweet production makes discerning observations about what can happen when things are rushed into. It’s not a show for everyone: some may be put off by the (deliberate) cringe-worthiness of some of the lines. For my part, I found this to be a quirky and entertaining production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s just a dinner party. A normal civilised dinner party.
But it’s not.
It’s definitely not.
Jess Brays hilarious Ayckebournesque play about two couples with two very different ideas about a certain dinner party comes to Theatre N16 as part of our brand new First Credit Scheme.
First credit produced by Theatre N16 and The Matthew Martino benevolent fund gives the opportunity to 4 actors and 2 directors to gain their first professional credit in the industry.
Cast: Paul Boichat, Rebecca Drake, Maanuv Thiara, Maisie Black.
Sunday 20th November to Thursday 1st December 2016