Claus von 130low We all eat too much at this time of year, and. even in the short breaks between meals, our attempts at intellectual sustenance are often distracted by articles and whole books about food. Sir Roy Strong has just published a huge book about grand feasts; a friend of mine sent me an even larger tome, entitled The Nordic Table, a smorgasbord of Viking gluttony, and the maecene Charles Saatchi is now adding the odd Nigella bonne bouche to his Damien Hirst. Munching in style has now also come to the Christmas season theatre in the form of Moira Buffini's Dinner in the tiny Loft at the National Theatre. The style was represented by Harriet Walter, elegantly and dramatically sheathed in scarlet silk, delivering the author's scintillating wit with lethal effect. There was not a sound of the unwrapping of cough drop cellophane to be heard. One wanted to hear every word in the hope of perhaps later regurgitating it as part of one's own small talk. The word regurgitating is singularly apt since Ms Walter's dinner is the menu from hell. This has of course been done before. Sensitive souls found that great French film La Grande Bouffe unsettling. Shakespeare's haute cuisine was notable in Titus Andronicus and in Macbeth, a play in which Harriet Walter also played the hostess a few years ago. Moira Buffini, whose sister, Fiona, has directed the production. is clearly in the forefront of talented new playwrights. I do not know whether she has seen Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Everyman, a regular feature at the Salzburg Summer Festival. I was taken to it when I was 10-years old and I have not been so frightened since. Buffini's new play deserves a transfer to the West End so as to frighten the Fat Cat audiences. It is already sold out at the National.
Anthony Sher already partnered Harriet Walter in Macbeth and his Malevole in John Marston's The Malcontent would frighten anyone. This production at the Gielgud Theatre was a feature
of the RSC season of plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries, which I greatly enjoyed when they first played at Stratford last summer. They were all programmed by Gregory Doran, and I was afraid that, when the RSC foolishly abandoned the Barbican, without having secured alternative venues in London, they would never reach theatre fans in the South. Thanks to private enterprise we will now get them all, I strongly recommend John Fletcher's The Island Princess, Phillip Massinger's The Roman Actor (also with Anthony Sher), and more half-heartedly Edward III, attributed to Shakespeare. There is enough good poetry in it to justify the attribution, but it belongs to the Bard's name-dropping era, which was immortalised by that quartet of talented undergraduates in Beyond The Fringe. Remember: "Get thee to Suffolk, Norfolk"?
The Malcontent, in common with all Jacobean plots, requires time and space. Suffice it to say that the Duke of Altofronto (like so many of Shakespeare's dukes) has been dispossessed of his duchy and his duchess. He reappears, disguised as Malevole, and his command of early seventeenth century insults would make our lager
louts blush with the inadequacy of their own vocabulary. Doran has imaginatively placed the action in a present day South American dictatorship. including dizzy blonde whores reminiscent of the great Evita. The usurping dictator's cronies would all be eligible for today's reformed House of Lords. If you want to watch the late night news, after seeing this highly enjoyable play, you will recognise many of the characters. Later this month I will see the RSC's Eastward Ho, written by a trio of Ben Jonson, John Marston and George Chapman. I hear it is wonderful.
Anthony Neilson's Stitching was one of the best new plays in 2002. It is therefore not surprising that two of London's most imaginative theatre managements produced a duo of Neilson's "Christmas Spirit" plays at year end. The Lying Kind, at the Royal Court, and The Night Before Christmas at the Riverside Studios have seasonal bunting, family reunion farce. rat-race gift purchasing and even an elf to grant your wishes. They also have Neilson's feel for gutter wit and his acerbic focus on the class and gender wars. Sadly, they are not quite good enough for an author of such potential.