Dinner With Groucho: New Frank McGuinness play is absurdly entertaining

Dinner With Groucho: New Frank McGuinness play is absurdly entertaining

THERE is much which is delightfully absurd in Frank McGuinness’ latest play.

Dinner with Groucho, a three-person, one-act production, received its London premiere in the capital this month.

There, perfectly nestled in the warehouse-esque walls of the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, it roared into life, with high-kicks, rubber chickens and magic tricks all featuring in the 70-minute spectacle.

Produced by the Irish b*spoke theatre company, Donegal-native McGuinness’ story envisions a real-life meeting which once took place between two heavyweight Americans of their time, namely the comedian and film and television star Groucho Marx and the award-winning poet, publisher and editor T.S. Eliot.

And we, the audience, get to witness this first-hand, with many surreal twists and turns thrown in for good measure as this unusual pairing sit down together for the first time.

Marx, played energetically brashly by Coronation Street’s Ian Bartholomew, wearing the required bushy eyebrows and painted on moustache, is everything you might expect from the infamous actor, who is at once jovial and melancholy, simultaneously delighted and perturbed.

Eliot, played by the effortlessly effective Greg Hicks, is a rather more refined dinner guest, keen to talk about Marx, rather than himself, and as quick to bat off compliments as he is to question his companion’s more undesirable traits.

This is high energy theatre from the outset and the pair launch into discussions that cover everything from anti-Semitism to Shakespeare while enjoying dinner and drinks at an unnamed restaurant, apparently regularly frequented by Eliot, who confirms it is empty due it being utterly exclusive.

It is managed and owned by the Proprietor, an otherwise unnamed woman, played charmingly by Irish stage star Ingrid Craigie.

It is as if Craigie’s character has summoned the supper guests via séance, and the minimalistic set design by Adam Wilshire, with its flickering lights in baubles, single table and two chairs and sawdust and other debris on the floor, only serves to support that theory.

The Proprietor is a constant presence in the room, although with multiple dress changes, she reappears more glamorous and increasingly sequined on every occasion.

The absurdity of the setting it clear from the outset with the dinner conversations only confirming that further, and one needs to pay close attention to proceedings in order to keep up with the dialogue-heavy, fast-moving piece.

But it is the moments when all three characters are on stage that prove the most entertaining – particularly when the arrival of champagne prompts both Eliot and Marx to erupt into a high-kicking Charleston dance.

If you are up for a short, sharp burst of humorous pre-Christmas entertainment then the Arcola Theatre currently has just what you need.

But if you’re going you will need to be quick, as the show, directed by Loveday Ingram, is only there until December 10

Click here for tickets.