Dinner With Groucho by Frank McGuinness. Studio 1, The Arcola, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8 to 10 December 2022. 5*****. William Russell.

Billed as its world premiere, although it has already been seen in Ireland, this is a dazzling, fictitious version of a meeting that really did take place between Groucho Marx and T.S. Elliot. the pair, odd though it may seem, did conduct a considerable correspondence in real life although the dinner table meeting was probably nothing like this. We find them the only customers in a restaurant presided over by an elegant, ever so slightly passe lady known only as the Proprietor who is accustomed at least to the ways of the poet and playwright who seems to dine there off and on. The conversation between the two men ranges far and wide with Groucho more interested in talking about Shakespeare – King Lear features a lot, with one conversational riff being what it would have been like had Cordelia been a man – while Elliot would like the low down on Hollywood and Greta Garbo. The Proprietor gets involved in an argument about her name which, it seems, is not Marguerite and never Maggie, bringing to mind Margaret Dumont who featured so much in Groucho’s on screen life The two men sing, dance, magic tricks get performed and the Proprietor gives a delightful rendering of The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery in which they join in which almost, but not quite, ends up as a singalong with the audience.

The play, a glorious example of theatre of the absurd, could mean nothing at all, or it could mean a lot. There is, for instance, a comic, yet serious underneath the banter, discussion about Jewish champagne to ponder, and a long opening joke about the soup they are eating being chicken or duck.

Director Loveday Ingram has handled it with the lightest of touches and the performances of Greg Hicks as Elliot, Ian Bartholomew as Groucho and Ingrid Craigie as the Proprietor are outstanding. Hicks is a splendidly uptight but letting his hair down a little Elliot, Bartholomew, while doing a fine impersonation of Groucho the screen clown, manages to create the man underneath the screen image, and Craigie, in a series of splendid gowns keeps them firmly in their place, managing to be ever so slightly threatening at the same time. The bill she presents them with at the end is a masterpiece of invention – like the play. You make what you will of waiting to meet Godot. Here you will make what you will of dining with Groucho.

T.S.Elliot: Greg Hicks.

Groucho Marx: Ian Bartholomew.

Proprietor: Ingrid Craigie.

Director: loveday Ingram.

Set Designer: Adam Wiltshire.

Costume Designer: Joan Bergin.

Lighting Designer: Paul Keogan.

Choreographer: David Bolger.

Composer & Sound Designer: Conor Linehan.

Magic Consultant: Pat Fallon.

Production Photography: Barry McCall & Ros Kavanagh.

ReviewsGate Copyright Protection