There is something about local theatre that captivates an audience in a very unique way bigger productions cannot. Larger and more expensive shows are often visually impressive and entertaining on a grand scale but theatrical offerings on much smaller stages, like this one, give the actors nowhere to hide and the audience a prime viewing position.
This is the undeniable novelty of the Stage Door Dinner Theatre, now permanently housed at the Twelfth Night Complex in the old Journalists’ Club. After sitting down to a surprisingly agreeable three-course meal the music begins, the lights dim and the curtains open to start the show. Audience members are afforded the luxury of sipping wine and nibbling bread throughout.
Look Who’s Talking, written by Derek Benfield, begins as Sheila (Lindi Milbourne) prepares to entertain for Sunday afternoon lunch. The idyllic setting is soon shattered as Bryan (Mark Fell) calls in with flowers for Sheila under the impression their brief meeting over a few glasses of wine the previous week had gone further than she suspected.
Enter Sheila’s devoted husband Andrew (Alex Lanham), a vague yet enthusiastic solicitor unaware of Bryan’s intentions but pleased to have him along to lunch all the same. Sheila runs around in a mad panic telling little white lies to keep Bryan’s real identity a secret but the plot thickens when Carol (Michelle Atkinson), Andrew’s excitable secretary, arrives on the doorstep ready to take him away on a naughty assignment to Italy.
As the story develops Andrew and Sheila go to ridiculous lengths to cover up infidelities of which neither are sure occurred. Throw in the only invited lunch guest, Sheila’s confused friend Jane (Veronica Smith), and the recipe for disaster has been written up with a good serving of half-baked stories.
The story itself is a farce in the true sense. The situation descends into mayhem as hosts Andrews and Sheila play havoc with the lives of those around them with their lies and deceit.
Each character is wonderfully observed and the actors bring their own special kind of nuance to add the sense of urgency that a play of this kind requires.
Alex Lanham does a superb job playing Andrew, the vague yet calculating solicitor. His almost acrobatic eyebrows give his facial expressions an added sense of comedy I likened to Martin Sheen doing standup after a lobotomy if you don’t follow the analogy I mean that sincerely as a compliment.
Lindi Milbourne plays Sheila to a tee. The entire show she rushes about the stage, resplendent in summer dress and pearls, showing the audience every facial twitch and worried look as she tries to stop Andrew from learning Bryan’s real reason for visiting.
Perhaps the standout performance for me is Michelle Atkinson as Carol. I had the pleasure of seeing Michelle in Secret Bridesmaids’ Business earlier this year and again I was not disappointed. She gives the excitable character of Carol plenty of energy and her constant reaction and movement to every scene gives her a magnetic quality.
The character of Carol is forever off with fairies, occasionally tuning in to fill the room with her piercing shriek of a laugh every time Andrew makes (or even attempts) a joke. The mixture of her deafening laugh and Andrew’s obvious displeasure at it make for some of the play’s funnier moments.
Mark Fell does a good job as the gentleman called Bryan but I felt that his character almost had two sides to it, intentional or not. In one instance he appears to be a naïve and good-natured person caught in the web of lies spun by Andrew and Sheila but when more is revealed he becomes manipulative and seems to wants to break up the marriage, something that his earlier self just wouldn’t do.
Veronica Smith as Jane could have been a little bit more sneering and dismissive in keeping with the text, but essentially she does a good job coming into the play at the end of the first half.
On such a small stage and within literally feet of the audience the cast cannot afford to put a foot wrong and director Jerry Lowley has made sure the space is used to maximum effect. Apart from one or two wrong movements on stage bound to happen on opening night the cast kept everyone involved and the expressive body language they all used made it pretty hard to look past them to notice any mistakes on a more technical level.
Brisbane’s only dedicated dinner theatre does not disappoint on any level. Look Who’s Talking features an impressive cast and the audience’s proximity to the action makes the show a much more personal affair. The experience is highly recommended to any local theatregoers who might fancy something a little different.