Dinner With Groucho ★★ Arcola Theatre | Nov 16 - Dec 10, 2022

The Nobel Prize winning poet, T.S. Eliot, and the wise-cracking comedian, Groucho Marx, are a most unexpected pairing. That they admired each others' work and corresponded probably comes as a surprise to most people. This slight play takes its inspiration from a dinner they had together in 1964. However, rather than trying to imagine the polite banalities or thoughtful interchanges that might have constituted that evening's conversation, Frank McGuinness has created a pastiche of the two artists' signature tropes. The underlying sense of absurdity and disconnection that inform Groucho's humour and Eliot's poetry become the theme of this encounter which is then supplemented by musical interludes and lots of literary allusions. We are given a rendition of Marie Lloyd's "The Boy I love is Up in the Gallery" and a sustained reference to Marianne Moore's poem, "Silence," thus making the script the kind of mixing, and mocking, of high and low culture that both Eliot and Groucho enjoyed. The metaphor laden meal that may represent the principals' banquet of life is presided over by a figure who, among others, echoes Eliot's enigmatic Madame Sosostris and Groucho's foil, Margaret Dumont. Ingrid Craigie who plays this proprietor of the dining establishment does so with a suitable imperiousness and a sense of mystery, that may suggest she is an embodiment of time, serving as both the diners' hostess and their nemesis. While the banter between Ian Bartholomew as the intelligent and irreverent Groucho, and Greg Hicks as the conservative and contradictory Eliot is very well done, ultimately, this repast leaves one rather unsatisfied. It doesn't really have a clear narrative, nor does it get behind the personae of either of these men who clearly admired the others' genius.

Rated: ★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Ros Kavanagh.

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