Plays don't come much weirder, wittier or blacker than Dinner, a comedy about a dinner party from hell in which the hostess, Paige, offers three courses of revenge and disgust to her errant husband, his friends and mistress, ostensibly to celebrate the publication of his latest philosophical tome.
Actually, moral philosophy is coming back into fashion, at least in the theatre. After Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, now revived at the Piccadilly, Dinner offers another journey down the twisting avenues of philosophical thought, as some of the husband's theories are brutally put to the test.
Moira Buffini's play (directed by her sister Fiona Buffini) has lots on the menu, and I don't just mean a "primordial soup" made of algae and living organisms, an "apocalypse of lobster" in which the guests are served a live lobster and have to decide whether to let it live or die, and a dessert made up of the frozen contents from the waste bin.
It's comic as well as symbolic. And when Paige announces a party game to have her guests talk on subjects she has specially chosen for two minutes, proceedings take a savage turn that recalls the 'Get the Guests' scenario in Edward Albee's famous dinner party play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Dinner is likewise a play of mordant wit and macabre pleasure, and it is played to the stylish hilt by a cast that includes the brilliant Harriet Walter as Paige, who goes from the heartbreak of her last role in The Deep Blue Sea (seen on a national tour) to pointed hilarity here. Nicholas Farrell is also wonderful as her husband, barely suppressing his irritation and then fury at her, while Penny Downie is very funny as his mistress Wynne, whose own partner has just walked out on her.
There's also a splendid contribution from Paul Kaye as an uninvited guest - something he's adept at playing, having created the uninvited celebrity interviewer Dennis Pennis, on television, who would aggressively doorstep stars like Demi Moore and ask questions like: "If it wasn't gratuitous in any way and it was tastefully done, would you consider keeping your clothes on in a movie?"
This play of hilarious bad taste and worse manners sometimes feels like an Orton comedy, and you may have trouble keeping your food down at any post-theatre meal afterwards!
- Mark Shenton