DESSERT Southwark Playhouse SE1



Piquant idea, to open Oliver Cotton’s play about financial inequality in BBC Salary Embarrassment Week.  While the inequity between multi-million popinjays and mere 149k losers in the weird world of showbiz is perhaps not especially  worth angsting about, there were nice resonances.


For it’s a good subject: Cotton is having a spirited pop at the Philip Green fatcat amassers of money, and especially the asset-strippers who leave investors broke like the antihero Hugh – who is Michael Simkins, always a treat. Trevor Nunn’s production (so soon after his latest Rattigan) wins another lovely drawing-room-play design – all Farrow& Ballish with old masters which are part of the plot tastefully framed in elegant white mouldings against fashionably duckshit-green walls. At a selfconsciously posh dinner table we meet two couples – Hugh and lady Gill (Alexandra Gilbreath) entertaining American friends, who are played by Stuart Milligan and Teresa Banham with a nice annoying edge. They are contacts in the murky world of enormous investments . Milligan has less to do, but as the trophy-wife Meredith, Ms Banham navigates hilariously from being a defiant ignorama droning on about some ridiculous Blairish spiritual healing in South America, through a brief hysteria to display in the crisis an unexpected rather likeable solidity. Which is more than can be said for Graham Turner, who does a splendid turn as a burnt-out City maths genius turned herb-cookery nut and butler. He has become Hugh’s loyal factotum and has, as it turns out, a remarkable gift for making disasters even worse.




For a disaster is what the evening rapidly becomes. One hesitates to offer spoilers, but you should at least know that “Dessert” is a joke: they never get to the pudding because a young man in camo gear breaks in with a gun to lecture them on the evils of undeserved wealth (desert, geddit?) .  He has come make threats and demands which fatcat Hugh (Simkins rather splendidly drawing a tiny bit of sympathy from some of us) won’t meet.




It certainly keeps you watching, Nunn’s direction is sharp, and gunshots and other surprises come just when you aren’t quite expecting them. But Cotton’s play has one serious flaw: it puts an unreasonable weight on the tough young intruder Eddie, played as well as he could be by Stephen Hagan. It is an unusual, if not incredible, portrait of a self-educated, art-fancying, justice-seeking young soldier; but it is plain unfair to bestow such immense, Guardian-leader sprawls of angry egalitarian and ethical argument on one character. There is – certainly at first – far too little interruption and dialogue with the others to sharpen it. Eddie, frankly, goes on and on in a way few characters have been allowed since the days of George Bernard Shaw. It slows the play and detaches you.




With some cuts, it could be sharp indeed. And is certainly topical. And Eddie is morally quite right. But it’s not good being right if you’re boring, and even a Rylance would be hard put to make some of the character’s scenes anything else. Cotton has done this ranting before, in DAYTONA: looking back, I notice I wrote about “long, emotionally charged narrative monologues demanding from the other [cast members] the equally difficult art of listening and reacting.” But I did enjoy the dénouement. I hope for more Cotton, because he’s a great plot-maker. All it needs is a bit less of the GBS speechifying .



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rating three   3 Meece Rating


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