Theatre review: How to Host a Dinner Party, Brighton Fringe

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The Sussex company Park Bench Dance Theatre’s show opens with two barefoot, smartly dressed women shuffling on to a empty stage with a dining table. They disappear again and return with some chairs. A long and wordless tussle ensues in which identical dining chairs are shifted and swapped, shunted and dragged, and swapped and shifted again.

The stress of home entertaining has sustained all manner of dramas, from big screen efforts Abigail’s Party and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? to Neil Simon’s one-act play about marriage and divorce, The Dinner Party

This year’s Fringe festival has already hosted the triple-bill Table Manners in which assorted performers push the boundaries of what is acceptable during a three-course dinner. Within this overworked and frequently overwrought setting, there needs to be real human drama, an abundance of ideas, perhaps even a hint of subversion. Sadly, How to Host a Dinner Party comes up short on all counts.

Following the passive-aggressive shunting of chairs, our protagonists – played by Rosanna Tat and Cornelia Turner-Klier, who also choreograph the show - set about putting the finishing touches to their outfits. As make-up is applied, necklaces clasped and shoes chosen, both glance nervously towards the door. Why are their guests late? Have they been stood up? Why is it, I found myself thinking, that in the land of fiction no one thinks to pick up the phone?

Gradually we hear the sound of human voices, the tinkling of glasses and – in the hosts’ imagination – a dinner party in full swing. The soundtrack gets louder as the women envision themselves deep in conversation, rapt in the sparkling company and, in a flight of fantasy half-inched from the film The Artist, encased in the arms of a man. Then all is quiet again, their hopefulness burst like a balloon.

The show is described on the programme as “minimalist dance work.” The emphasis here is certainly on minimalist. While there is a tension in the flashes of antagonism, and playfulness in the synchronised movements that teeter on the edge of slapstick, these moments are too fleeting to really engage (the whole show is done and dusted in 25 minutes). As a whole the piece looks like a sketch for something more substantial. There is the outline of an idea here but, as it stands, How to Host a Dinner Party brings nothing new to the table.

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