In keeping with our trend of hit productions from the eighties, this week we revisit the 1988 production of After Dinner, the inaugural play from then unknown playwright Andrew Bovell. Originally presented at La Mama, After Dinner made its home at Theatre Works for a successful follow up season where it cemented itself as an essential component of the Australian comedic cannon, before going on to another season at the Universal Theatre in Fitzroy. Over the following five years, the work was subject to extensive touring in nearly every capital city of the country and subsequently earning its writer a national profile.
Set in a suburban pub bistro on a Friday night, After Dinner takes a funny, sometimes cruel, yet sympathetic look at people caught up in the banality of routine office jobs, and their desperation for both pleasure, escapism and intimacy.
Three office workers – Dympie, Paula and Monika – desperately seek a good night out. At an adjoining table are Gordon, recently abandoned by his wife, and Stephen, looking for something more than the usual one night stand. As the two tables cross paths, inhibitions and social restraint disappear, exposing the foibles, pain and humour of the characters’ inner lives. Over the course of the night bad dance moves are put on display, friendships are tested and the map of the human heart is crisscrossed. ‘Will the waiter ever serve them? Why is Monika locked in the loo? Will Brendan ever get there? Who will go off with whom? Or will they end up alone, just like every other Friday night?’
A student at the Victorian College of the Arts, Bovell was just 20 years old when he began drafting the play that would launch him into the public eye. In a 2018 interview leading up to a production with the State Theatre Company of South Australia, Bovell mused on his mindset at the time of writing:
“It’s the late 1980s – it’s pre-Tinder, it’s pre-Grindr…We used to go out to meet people, so it’s about that Friday night ritual of office workers going out to have a drink at the pub to hopefully meet somebody and make some kind of connection.”
Despite its notoriously graphic sexual content and whip smart humour, Bovell cited his impetus for writing occurring as “strangely, a response to the murder of a friend,” and a desire to finds a reason to laugh again.
Despite being an early calling card in what would be an extensive body of work, in After Dinner Bovell exhibited the sure hand of a gifted wordsmith in an acutely observed but tender-hearted account of relationships and human behaviour. Complete with beautifully observed characters, wincingly funny one-liners and instantly recognisable situations, it’s sharp black social commentary cemented the work as an instant classic.
Since it’s early iteration at Theatre Works, After Dinner has graced the stage with over 30 productions, including notable recent seasons at both the Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company of South Australia.
As is the case with many works of the pre digital age, critical reviews of the original production are near impossible to come by. Some musings on Bovell’s writing from more recent productions are included below:
“It is so surprising that for an early play written at such a young age, Bovell has managed to craft a cast of characters that are full of hilarious pathos, but are also startlingly insightful; even at 21, Bovell understand that mass of insecurity and want and need that makes a person, and how to present it as glorious, even when totally unhinged.”
As a critic, you don’t often see a show you feel you can heartily recommend to anybody, knowing almost anybody will feel like it was a worthwhile way to spend an evening. This production is as down-to-earth and broadly crowd-pleasing as it is sophisticated and is superbly crafted with subtlety and nuance. “It stands up more than 25 years after it’s premiere as a very good play from one of our greatest playwrights.”
“Rarely do you see theatre this laugh-aloud funny, so do get in and enjoy it.”
The Daily Telegraph, STC, 2015
The creative team for the Theatre Works production of After Dinner can be observed below:
Written and Created by
EUGENIA FRAGOS, TOM GUTTERIDGE, LEIGH MORGAN, PETER MURPHY, KIM TRENGOVE
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