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SCENE IT: It’s a Sex Life, Jim, but Not as We Know It

Maria Kearns

 

What counts as a successful first date in a human breeding facility? In Dinner with the 42s, staying alive until the imaginary cheese cart’s rolled out would probably count as a win.

Scott Sparrow’s play, about two people trying to make sense of a terrifying reality in which they’re no more than cogs in an unfeeling machine serving the interests of an absent elite, presents its unsuspecting audience with a power dynamic that turns out to be uncomfortably familiar to anyone who may be trying to stand their ground against our current social contract. The world inhabited by our protagonists has no time or mercy for the weak or economically useless—a fact stoically accepted by the characters we see on stage.


In this dark comedy currently running at the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre, audiences are treated to stellar turns from Emily Child (Eva) and Nicholas Pauling (Burn … or is it?) as two inmates housed in a mysterious utilitarian facility where their purpose appears to be producing offspring as soon as possible whilst overseen by an unhinged line manager, Brent Palmer (Drinkwater).


Greg Karvellas’s direction allows the mystical, ancient ritual of The Dating to unfold at a compelling pace as the extinct practice is comically resurrected by our protagonists, and Niall Griffin’s masterfully subdued stage, lighting, and costume design prove to be an integral part of the production’s success.


Despite their decidedly grim destiny, Eva and Burn exhibit a familiar yearning for human connection. This yearning is particularly poignant as it washes against the institutional confines of Eva and Bern’s surroundings, which come to feel like a suffocating wipe-clean habitat offering no distractions from the task at hand.


Sparrow’s writing shines in those moments where Eva and Burn engage in the kind of stunted small-talk familiar to anyone recently emerging from a solitary pandemic cocoon. Their distinctly broken speech patterns are an important feature of the piece and provide us with clues as to the extent to which their society’s disintegrated.


‘They look like violent things, but on the inside, they are beautiful,’ Eva says as she tries to explain now-extinct pineapples to the incredulous Burn. Burn attempts to make small talk, a new concept to him, by discussing the breeding habits of his favourite animals. There’s a sort of grim satisfaction to be taken from the play’s assumption that dating won’t become any less painful after the apocalypse.


While the ending presents an unsatisfactory puzzle and the play at times seems in danger of getting caught between stacking its imagined world with specific cultural idiosyncrasies and not giving full weight to the necessary implications of a society built around these idiosyncrasies, these are minor criticisms easily outweighed by the quality of the performances and the engaging dialogue.


It’s not often Cape Town audiences get to see spec-fic on stage, and Dinner with the 42s will keep you laughing and gasping until the end, so consider a ticket to this new dystopian offering a worthwhile addition to your monthly budget.


Dinner with the 42s opened on the 8th of November and will be playing at the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre until the 19th of November. Tickets are available from the Baxter or through Webtickets.

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