Writer: Oliver Cotton
Director: Trevor Nunn
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
We’re reeling through a tough and tense socio-economic period now where there’s anger, desperate misunderstanding and snake-oil being peddled as medicine for the country’s woes. That anger exists on all sides of a class and political spectrum. It’s fuelling some incredible educational, political and journalistic work – and its creative expression has seen powerful moments.
Oliver Cotton’s play, Dessert, seeks to harness the righteous anger of the moment. It’s an entirely worthy subject for rigorous exploration – worthy of more examination than is presented here.
We’re looking at a rich couple, hosting another rich couple in their home for dinner. In bursts a man who is hell bent on getting compensation for the money his dad lost when he invested in Hugh Fennell’s company. Eddie Williams is an ex-soldier, an amputee, and is aggrieved that he suffered so much and received so little, while others seem to have it all without much or any struggle or sacrifice.
Through this set-up, we enter an evening of discussion and argument on the nature of worth, reward and what each of us deserves. There’s possibly the core of an intriguing play here. Though there are so many holes it becomes difficult to grasp something solid.
Chief among the irritants are the characteristics and the content. Diatribes against speculative economics and the financial system, in general, are unpolished – which is a shame in a play all about greed, the balance between profit and social responsibility and free-market economics. We hear the level of discourse you may experience at 1am floating through the corridors in first-year university halls. The rebuttals are worse – Hugh, the former CEO, and Wesley, his banker friend, blaming an amorphous blob, “the markets”, for Hugh’s company’s failure. Are we to believe a named partner in an investment bank and multiple-time CEO so easily give up a claim to understanding the financial world?
Content like that leads to the impression the characters are not really supposed to be characters – they’re proxies and targets for the simplistic debate the play proposes. With the exception of the live-in help in Hugh and Gill’s home – a man called Roger who is recovering from an undefined breakdown – the characters all feel like caricatures. Unnatural reactions (one moving from having a gun to his temple to discussing paintings with the attacker within a matter of moments) and unnatural actions (would a group of 60+ rich white people really be so casual with a young, clearly prepared, armed and trained military home invader?) are unsettling, and disconnect these characters from any empathy an audience should be feeling for them.
Graham Turner as Roger, though burdened with an ill-defined role, creates sympathy and intrigue in a performance that draws all the attention from his surroundings.
There’s a ferocious amount to say about the financial world, about the distribution of wealth and about our unequal society. Between the two of them, Cotton and Nunn have managed to miss most of the interesting bits.
Runs until 5 August 2017 | Image: Marylin Kingwill