Review: High-quality acting in a rocky and real play on Leamington stage

A journey many will recognise: Dinner with Friends. Picture: Richard Smith Photography
A journey many will recognise: Dinner with Friends. Picture: Richard Smith Photography

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Dinner with Friends at the Loft Theatre, Leamington

There are many ways a play can grip – action, suspense, spectacle, mystery. Dinner with Friends sails closer to the wind, not by being risqué but by being real.

Karen and Gabe (Ruth Herd and Mark Roberts) and Beth and Tom (Hannah Brown and Chris Gilby-Smith) are two middle class American couples whose histories go back years. So when Beth announces out of the blue that her husband Tom is leaving her for another woman, it rocks the foundations of their sense of who they are. After all, didn’t Karen and Gabe first introduce Beth to Tom in a kind of arranged date? Isn’t Tom Gabe’s best friend? What have they been thinking all these years?

Donald Margulies’s Pulitzer Prize winning play works by gradually teasing out the threads of their misconceptions. Where there was thought to be admiration it turns out there was jealousy; where there was confidence it turns out there was doubt. Where there was familiarity there was frustration. All are affected.

With so much hanging on the dialogue the acting had better be pretty good. And it is. The rapport between the two men in particular was complex and strong. The play operates to some extent on what is not said between characters, so for example when Tom meets up with Gabe in a bar sometime after he has left Beth and tries again to justify his behaviour and his happiness, you can feel the thoughts in Gabe’s mind without hearing them spoken.

Dinner with Friends ends well for all the characters, but the journey is a rocky one. It’s one many of us will recognise for having travelled it.

* Dinner with Friends runs until Saturday October 6. See loft-theatre.co.uk to book.