Raúl Quirós Molina’s three-character play The Dinner is a study of greed, corruption and desperation, taking its inspiration from the grubby back room deals, bribes and unsavoury characters that have afflicted the Spanish Property boom in the run up to the 2008 crash.
Two men are preparing for a dinner in a basement below a restaurant, anticipating the arrival of a mysterious casino mogul ‘Adelson’ who is to put his signature to a lucrative but highly suspect real estate transaction. The buyer, played by Ed Williams, is Adelson’s representative, a slick, desperate spiv, looking to close one last deal to fund an escape from a spiral of corruption and, we infer, probable arrest. The seller, played by Alan Booty, is a sly chancer, trying to make a quick buck by offloading a dubiously acquired plot of land. Their link to the outside world is their doddering waiter, played by Julian Bird, who shuttles back and forth to the basement bringing news of events unfolding outside – the arrival or non-arrival of Adelson, the preparation of a Turkey for their dinner, and other more unexpected developments.
There is an end of days feel to the whole situation – these two are rats deserting a sinking ship, grabbing an armful of swag on their way out. The early exchanges, as the two men verbally stalk around each other, prodding for weakness, are engrossing, and the writing is at its strongest here where there is more space around the action to develop character. The buyer’s extended speech about why he likes to eat in expensive restaurants is especially rich, with Ed Williams channeling the spirit of Patrick Bateman into a tense, sneering monologue.
As the action unfolds, and the level of entropy both in the basement and in the outside world increases, the sense of impending disaster becomes almost palpable, and the desperation of the two leads becomes feverish. Eventually (as in the Spanish housing boom), the bubble bursts, as the tension becomes too much and the tense standoff finally explodes into a riotous, absurd denouement.
The Dinner originally ran closer to 90 minutes, but was edited down for the run at the Vaults Festival. The truncated running time does make for some slightly drastic gear changes, particularly in the final 15 minutes. But it’s forgivable – in under an hour, two characters in a basement have created a whole implied world outside, bristling with menace and incipient chaos, and the cast hurl themselves into the last act with enough brio that the audience was carried merrily through the final descent into absurdity.