What the butler saw

Michael Holland (03 August, 2017) Theatre

Oliver Cotton’s Dessert explores worth at Southwark Playhouse

18303Photo: Catherine Ashmore

It wasn’t even a whodunit and I was blaming the butler. I clocked his face as he was made to feel awkward while he cleared away the main course leftovers in preparation for dessert and felt sure he was going to do something bad to his employers.

This was a dinner party at the Fennells’ for the visiting Barneses, in Oliver Cotton’s Dessert.

Here the Alpha Male oneupmanship in the conversation leant heavily towards how much have you got and how much have you spent.

Financier Hugh Fennell had recently bought a painting that might be worth £8m so it soon became the talk of the night. The wives, though, didn’t understand how ‘something 18 inches square can be worth so much’.

Hence, the question, ‘Who values art?’ is posed by the women, sitting there draped in a few inches of jewellery ‘worth’ thousands.

The power getting cut off is the cue for Eddie to appear, a soldier with a grudge. He lost a leg to an IED and his father was bankrupt by one of Hugh Fennell’s companies going into liquidation. Eddie is angry and he wants justice. And Eddie has a gun.

To add fun to the feast Eddie is not the only one armed. The young ex-soldier’s demands could actually have been relayed in a note made from letters cut out of newspaper headlines but that would deny him his two hours of berating the greedy rich and a greedy society via Hugh Fennell, the man he blames for all his and the world’s woes.

During the duration of the intrusion, the question of the value of art is reprised but then killed off with Eddie’s, ‘Goya never sold a painting in his life’.

It would also have denied us the chance of seeing some rather powerful acting from Stephen Hagan as Eddie and Alexandra Gilbreath as Gill Fennell, who impressively magicked up real tears of fear.

Yes, we hear arguments that we know all too well about bankers getting bonuses while nurses go to the food bank, but social comment theatre should reflect real life not invent it.

Dessert is about the ‘worth’ of people and who decides that worth.

Eddie asks of Hugh Fennell: ‘Why do you want so much money?’ And that is the question we consider on our journeys home.

Dessert is at Southwark Playhouse,

77-85 Newington Causeway,

SE1 6BD.

Until 5th August Monday to Saturday at 19.30; Tuesday and Saturday at 15.00

Admission: £20 | £16 concs

020 7407 0234


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