The After-Dinner Joke

August 11, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Serious funny

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39): Sun 7 – Sat 27 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Televisual origins and the passing of time have made much of The After-Dinner Joke, from New Celts and Agree to Disagree at theSpace on the Mile, a curiosity rather than an urgent piece of theatre. However, there is still enough to intrigue.

Caryl Churchill’s play was originally written for BBC1’s Play For Today in 1978, and features a series of vignettes relating to a young woman named Selby’s desire to leave the world of business and ‘do some good’ by working for charity. On stage, it becomes a parade of short scenes, pitched somewhere between Brecht and a sketch show.

A scene from The After Dinner Joke. Pic: Agree To Disagree

Some updating has been done – amounts of money, laptops and so on – but this is uneven. This hardly matters, as the original’s portrait of hyperinflation, companies that make obscene profits, and the corrosive legacy of colonialism seem strangely relevant.

Irena Komunjer portrays the would-be saviour of the world’s poor with real presence, and a command of comedy enhanced by a wonderfully expressive face.

The rest of the cast double and treble frantically as the number of scenes races over the 50 mark. Cameron Ledingham, Alisdair Halkett, Kaycee Renee Wilson and Michael Brown all show real energy in their various performances, with the recurring characters carefully delineated.

Ledingham can do pompously absurd very well, while Halkett impresses as both an OTT musician and a surly executive. Wilson nails childlike glee, while Brown’s creepy, snake-obsessed politician is a particular delight.

Despite their best efforts, however, the odd structure does become wearisome. Mark Thomson’s direction is sharp and purposeful, but the constant shifting of furniture – however methodically and economically it may be done – soon palls.

There are also some references that would surely need a footnote to anyone under 40, even if many of the targets of Churchill’s satire are still sadly in place.

The sheer energy and pace, however, overcome most objections in what is an enjoyable satirical production.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes (no interval)
theSpace on the Mile (Space 3), 80 High St, EH1 1TH (Venue 39)
Sunday 7 – Saturday 27 August 2022 (odd dates only)
Odd dates only at 13:15
Information and tickets: Book here

Company website: https://agree-to-disagree.co.uk
Instagram: @agreetodisagreetheatre
Facebook: @AgreeToDisagreeTheatre
Twitter: @AgreetoDisagr20
TikTok: @agreetodisagreetheatre

A scene from The After Dinner Joke. Pic: Agree To Disagree

ENDS

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