This is in fact the second of Anthony Maskell’s directorial efforts to which I have been exposed. In the first exposure, I saw an unlikely trio comprised of an assassin, a priest and a pregnant woman. With his latest work, Elephants, it seems he’s advanced to quartets. Yet what is gained in numbers seems to have been lost in variety. This time our characters are the uniformly bourgeois Laura (Olivia Homewood), Greg (Alex Hill), Jennifer (Maddy Walker) and Todd (Anthony Maskell). Yet as any victim of a dinner party will tell you, the premise of this middle class meeting is every bit as lethal as anything involving an assassin.
In this story, two couples come together for what should be a perfectly civilised evening. Lurking in the background however, are two delicate issues set to derail the locomotive of polite society. In the scene I was shown, the separated (but not yet divorced couple) Greg and Laura are fighting it out after parents’ evening. In those hugely enjoyable 15 minutes, the poor Greg (apparently a successful writer) is subject to a more thorough and cutting character dissection than most of his novels probably manage. In those 15 minutes we get everything from “remember when we used to be sexy” to Greg’s drinking problems.
It was hugely enjoyable in that slightly perverted way one (well, I do anyway) enjoys really well scripted bitching. In its most civilised guise you see it at its best in something like Yes Minister, at its worst in something like Mean Girls. I very much look forward to seeing which one of these poles Maskell’s theatrical expedition from film will take him. Especially after we find out that the insidious Laura, having subjected Greg to this ordeal, has arranged the afore- mentioned dinner party in which they will have to pretend to be a happily married couple in order that they might secure their child’s place at a top school.
It sounds immensely enjoyable and my preview certainly was. But it is also a premise not without risk. These fiery exchanges, fun though they are, can fall into the trap of ‘too much of a good thing’. If the balance between wit and story isn’t kept, these comedies can become exhausting and tedious. From my preview, it was hard to tell how the script will develop in this regard. Nonetheless Maskell has definitely entrusted the story to a great set of actors.
Alex Hill and Olivia Homewood were extremely convincing as the urbane and closeted middle class neurotics (at one point they even speculate in a Freudian sense on their child’s infantile sexuality). They can really pull off the dirty mixture of kitchen sink shouting matches and veiled eroticism that characterises the liminal state of their marriage. Their relentless shouting match was glorious to behold.
Once again as good as this is, it can’t be all of the production. Like the script, if they have a few more tricks up their sleeves, they have the potential to make an extremely riveting and entertaining farce. Like their marriage, this may hang in the balance.