Michael’s second wife, Louisa, is a sort of posh outsider, as she’s both public school-educated and a southerner; Michael is best friends, too, with Gordon’s wife, Sally, and even more 'taken' with their nubile young daughter, Effie, whose serious-minded boyfriend, Castro, a budding film maker, develops an intense passion for Louisa.
So far so neat, formal and complicated, but Jeremy Herrin’s production allows Dunster’s baggy play to breathe and dance along its long, direct address speeches (each character has one) and the meat of its meaning, which is contained in scabrous outbursts, notably from Darrell D'Silva’s grotesque and oily TV “personality”.
Michael loathes being asked to buy The Big Issue because he does so much for charity already. Trevor Fox’s battered, disappointed Gordon, who earns “pocket money” from gardening, has a right go at bloggers who aren’t really journalists and wheedles a huge loan from Michael for a business he has no intention of starting.
Over four years – and courtesy of Robert Innes Hopkins’s brilliant design, mixing scenic interiors with the Almeida’s brick surround – we move from Michael’s swanky abodes in Holland Park and Dorset (complete with onstage swimming pool) to Sally’s Denmark Hill home, as two plot strands develop.
First, Michael finds himself in the thick of sexual harassment allegations, driving a wedge of hostility through his private life. And second, Effie, superbly and seductively played by Emily Berrington (still a drama student at the Guildhall School), channels her modelling career into motherhood and the clothing industry while Castro (forcibly played by John MacMillan) harangues Beth Cordingley’s lovely but confused Louisa with the injustices of the oil industry.That last speech goes on, and on, for over 10 minutes, following a shock arrival on the doorstep which threatens the already tottering state of play between the others. Sally Rogers as Sally, who’s grown into herself over the play, initiates an extraordinary scene of feral behaviour involving truth-telling, pent up animosities and a kitchen knife, but no blood is spilled. Things have gone beyond even that.
“We have a lifestyle that we like and we don’t want to pay more for it”, says Castro, mid-harangue, fingering the decadence of Western society, to which there is simply no reply. You feel Dunster is trying to say everything he thinks about everything, and you’ve got to salute that sort of crazy theatrical ambition. The end result is highly entertaining and far from perfect: just like the world he’s describing.