Skip Links
soh.search.redirect.input

Unexpected guests:
Imara Savage and Elizabeth Gadsby

Sydney Theatre Company's director and designer on turning the tables on social norms in Dinner.

Sydney Theatre Company

The stage is set: a glass box on stage, a table dressed for the perfect dinner party. Expensive glasswear, gilded dishes, panelled walls of green and beige.

Sydney Theatre Company's Dinner flips the expectations of an ordinary social engagement. Together, director Imara Savage and set designer Elizabeth Gadsby create the kind of dining room that welcomes you in and then pulls the seat from right under you.

Why is this play called Dinner and why is it set at a dinner party?

IMARA SAVAGE: Dinner is a social ritual that we can all relate to and it comes with established expectations. You expect that the food will be good. You expect that the people gathered will like each other. And you expect that people will behave with a certain level of decorum. There are rules.

Is that where the comedy comes from – the subversion of those rules?

IS: Yes, in Dinner particularly. This isn’t a middle-class set of characters. They’re upper-class, so there are even more rules. Think of somebody like Lady Diana holding a dinner party – the expectations of what can be said and what can’t be said. And what happens when people do just blurt stuff out.

"You expect that the food will be good. You expect that the people gathered will like each other...there are rules."

 

 

What was your inspiration for the set?

ELIZABETH GADSBY: Imara and I looked through images of a lot of wealthy houses and this world of panelled walls and cream and beige and gold felt like a very appropriate space for the characters to exist within. It’s a politely lavish colour palette. But it’s also about the way that everything is eerily controlled in terms of colour, proportions and placement of objects.

There’s a slightly heightened symmetry and repetition to the space, which together with the restrained colours produces an underlying tension. When you look at the set, you can look through the doorways and see panelled walls that are exactly the same as the ones in the main room, and then a door that leads to another hallway with more panelled doors. Everywhere you look seems to be an extension of the same place, so it feels a bit like a house of mirrors. It’s a set of aesthetic rules that traps people inside.

IS: In other stagings of this work, there’s often no sense of place or time. It’s just a table surrounded by darkness. But Elizabeth’s set is very deliberately grounded in a real place and time. The set is heightened naturalism, but it feels real.

One of the things about social satire or a comedy of manners is that you need to establish a sense of place in order to subvert it.

“It feels a bit like a house of mirrors. It’s a set of aesthetic rules that traps people inside.”

EG: The audience needs to look at the set, look at the people, look at what they’re wearing and know who they are…

IS: …and know what kind of dinner it’s going to be. We need to pick up on those social cues.

Moira Buffini (writer of Dinner) has talked about not being sure if she was writing a tragedy or a comedy. What do you think?

EG: It is one of those plays where we’re walking a really fine line and if you tip one way it falls too far into being just one those things.

IS: It comes back to how much we care about the characters. There’s the kind of comedy where you laugh, then walk away and the feeling of laughter disappears. Or there’s the comedy in which you connect on a deeper level and the feeling of laughter can linger long after the show. I prefer that kind of comedy. 

Read the full interview in the printed programme, available at the Sydney Opera House until Saturday 28 October.

“There’s the kind of comedy where you laugh, then walk away and the feeling of laughter disappears.” 
Imara Savage

You may also like...

Improving the acoustics
Work is underway to make the Opera House sound as good as it looks. Meet the acousticians solving a 40 year-old problem.
Eat & drink
Sydney’s finest foods, drinks plus the best views in town. Our restaurants and bars range from Sydney’s finest to the most scenic places to relax.
House History
The history behind one of the indisputable masterpieces of human creativity. The tale of the Sydney Opera House is one of breathtaking triumph, and also one of huge personal cost.