SUSU Theatre Group  The Annex Theatre, University of Southampton (Highfield Campus), Southampton 

Anne Waggott 8 May 2024

When Paige Janssen invites an eclectic group of friends over to dinner to celebrate the success of her spouse’s latest psychology book, Beyond Belief, you might imagine that it would be a joyous and festive occasion. You’d be mistaken… With Paige’s questionable menu, an ill-assorted guest list, and the sudden arrival of an unexpected visitor (literally crashing the party), the evening rapidly descends into conflict, surprising revelations and danger… In short, the dinner party from Hell!

In this satirical comedy thriller, the University of Southampton Students Union Theatre Group (SUSU TG) have chosen a dark and edgy play packed full of themes about murder, weapons and suicide.

Pace and interjections are sharp and slick, unless using deliberately planned and directed awkward pauses; tonight, occasionally rapid speech lacked clear diction or the volume dropped, meaning some of the dialogue was difficult to catch, possibly due to opening night nerves, but this quickly settled.

In a strong ensemble production, the seven actors all provide convincing performances and distinctive characters, there are no weak links, and all have their moments when they shine. However, the standout performances for me are from Charlotte Klafkowska as the ever more inebriated and ever increasingly venomous hostess, Paige, Estelle Olcott as flamboyant exotic post-feminist artist, Wynne, and Eden Jack as the inadvertent and reluctant last-minute dinner guest, Mike; each commanded the performance area with every word, gesture and facial expression, commitment to their roles and aptitude for comic timing.

It’s a common trait that amateur theatre groups have more females than males amongst their numbers, so I don’t know if it was a conscious decision to switch genders for both Lars (Paige’s spouse) and the Waiter or an enforced one, but whatever the reason – it works and even adds an extra dimension to proceedings.

Moira Buffini’s play may not be to everyone’s taste (possibly it’s an acquired taste?); however, the quality of performances and production elements are to be admired, particularly on a Student Union’s budget. It’s not easy to transform a lecture theatre into a rich couple’s dining room, but as the mysterious Waiter (anonymous in the programme*) silently dresses the table and brings in an array of, quite frankly, unpalatable and revolting food, the illusion of an opulent setting seems totally believable. A lot of thought has gone into choosing the most appropriate music, lighting stages, props and costumes, all of which combine to enhance the “palpably poisonous atmosphere” alluded to in the programme (I couldn’t have phrased it better!). The preshow and interval jazz music set the tone for an evening of culinary delight (subverting the tone of the play itself), while the programme continues the attention to detail by attaching a price and gourmet quote to every member of the cast and production team – a nice touch!

SUSU Theatre Group invite you to Dinner until Saturday 11 May (Performances: 9 – 10 May @ 7:30 pm, 11 May @ 5:00 pm). I dare you to accept…!


* SUSU Theatre Group’s website reveals her identity to be Jessica Laws-Robinson