Dinner, Wyndham's Theatre, London

Buffini's macabre dinner party goes down a treat
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The Independent Culture

The dinner party from hell is a toothsome dramatic staple. Between the nibbles and the brandies, what scope there is for practising the arts of prandial persecution. Premiered a year ago in the short-lived Lyttelton Loft, Moira Buffini's blackly hilarious Dinner makes you feel that the guests in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Abigail's Party were positively pampered.

With the play transferring to the West End, we are now invited to a second sitting of this macabre feast. Certain ingredients have changed. The production is partially recast and the ending is radically different. Does Buffini's repast retain its distinctive savour?

I was not one of those who felt let down by the twists and the sick-joke sense of frustration in the conclusion of the version originally staged. But I have to concede this revised ending affords the audience the satisfaction of watching a plan fully consummated, with the bonus of exposing in an even worse light the smarmy villain of the piece. The evening still belongs to the glorious Harriet Walter whose posh rich bitch of a hostess, Paige, could reduce even Bette Davis to quivering meekness with her lethally timed put-downs. Swathed in scarlet, Walter is a miracle of glacial aplomb and suicidal sadness. She is paying the hired waiter £25,000 for this gig, so we know that somebody's blood will be on the carpet before carriages are called. The question is whose.

The dinner is purportedly to celebrate the success of Beyond Life, the new best-selling guide-book to life by her odiously phoney husband Lars (a spot-on Nicholas Farrell).

But it's clear that Paige is more indebted to the Surrealist Cookbook than to How To Be A Domestic Goddess as the guests gag their way through Primordial Soup (algae with a dash of sulphur) and Apocalypse of Lobster, which, in requiring the diners either to boil alive or free the creature on their plates, is Paige's characteristic way of satirising her husband's sub-Nietzschean doctrine that each of us should be the God of our own universe.

Expert acting once again compensates for the guests' characters, who are merely types (celebrity newsbabe; shifty microbiologist etc), especially Penny Downie's delicious performance as a desperately earnest and PC artist and veggie who has the hots for Lars, while still professing herself equally attracted to women.

This time, though, because of the casting of the likeably quirky Paul Kaye, it is more moving to witness the rapport that grows between Paige and her fellow subversive Mike, the working class van driver who crashes in the thick fog outside and finds himself a centre of controversy at this last supper.

Dinner is quite a freaky feat of fusion cuisine, but, as served up in Fiona Buffini's production, it slips down a treat.