THE BIG MEAL
by Dan LeFranc.
Ustinov Studio Sawclose BA1 1ET To 5 April.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
then High Tide Festival Halesworth
The Cut (Main House) 8 New Cut IP19 8BY 10-19 April 2014.
10 Apr 8pm.
11 Apr 6pm.
12 Apr 1.30pm, 6.45pm.
13 Apr 3.30pm, 7.30pm.
16 Apr 7.30pm.
17 Apr 5.45pm.
18 Apr 2pm, 6.45pm.
19 Apr 1.30pm, 6.45pm.
TICKETS: 01603 598606.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 March.
Exhilarating, fast-moving and, ultimately, moving voyage through a family’s lives.
The Big Meal recalls Thornton Wilder’s 1931 one-acter The Long Christmas Dinner where a meal starts realistically, before the playwright gradually makes us aware the eating and drinking are stretching unnaturally on. Wilder’s family meal across the generations becomes in Dan LeFranc’s 2011 drama a – well, wilder, affair, beginning with a no commitment pick-up in a cheap restaurant.
But fondness creeps in with desire, and the noisy brats in the restaurant, inevitably, become the children of the marriage between two people who have scorned marriage, while various relatives arrive to swell the party.
Wilder used a nurse with pram to signal the next generation starting its progress through the ages. In Michael Boyd’s Ustinov production, an aural ‘ping’ shifts the situation forward, from an opening which happens so quickly it seems the action’s started before we realise it. As actors inherit a character from someone younger, it can be hard to keep up with just who’s precisely who right now.
Which adds to the exhilaration in Boyd’s viscerally bold direction, matching his Shakespeare Histories in Stratford-upon-Avon and London last decade, or his earlier work at Glasgow’s Tron. There’s a swaggering, swift yet simple directness that transmits to the playing – which is superbly realised, and responsive to script and direction throughout, making for gripping viewing.
One thing slows the momentum. Plates of unnaturally coloured food, plonked down by a stage-manager with resounding amplification, mopped-up with gusto, swallowed voraciously, or munched despite attempts to prevent those whose time has come consuming them, represent fatality; the quarrels and joys of life punctuated by its inevitable ending.
But why did Diana Quick sign-up for such apparently sideline casting, entering the story late and sitting at the side much if the time, with none of the multi-role, variously toned bonhomie and jocosity Keith Bartlett can find for the older male characters?
The answer’s in the final scenes, as she takes once carefree, light-as-air waitress Nicole into her later years, quietly and clearly showing a lifetime’s emotional luggage with restrained wisdom and understanding, expressed, after all the energy, in the withdrawn silence of a not-quite-dying fall.
Sam/Robbie/Steven/Marcus/Jeremy/Patrick/Michael/Sammy: James Corrigan.
Nicole/Jessica/Maddie/Stephanie/Jackie: Lindsey Campbell.
Sam/Robbie: Jo Stone-Fewings.
Nicole/Maddie/Jackie: Kirsty Bushell.
Pesky Little Girl/Maddie/Jackie: Zoe Dolly Castle/Courtnei Danks.
Pesky Little Boy/Robbie/Sammy/Matthew: Jeremy Becker/Robie Whittock.
Nicole/Alice: Diana Quick.
Sam/Robert/Jack: Keith Bartlett.
Director: Michael Boyd.
Designer: Tom Piper.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound: Andrea J Cox.
Dialect coach: Rick Lipton.