Theatre Review: The Big Meal is a satisfying event (playing until 4th November)

In an average restaurant, somewhere in America, a guy and girl meet. What follows is a familiar story, told in a not so average way; a lifetime condensed into just over an hour. The Depot Theatre’s latest production, The Big Meal, is an epic tale shrunk to fit a tiny stage. It is big on humour and heart and will leave you thinking about your own family and the lives within.

American writer, Dan LeFranc, has crafted a clever play, challenging both the actors and director with a tricky premise: tell the story of many generations of the same family with just eight actors and no scene changes. That said, it does leave you wondering exactly what is the point? The dialogue is funny but doesn’t really deliver any philosophical gems, and the storyline meanders along exactly as you would expect. Perhaps the point is that this is life, no more, no less – that really is all there is.

With this show, Director, Julie Baz, demonstrates that she really knows her way around a stage. She has interpreted this script very well, ably guiding her actors through the complex, inter-woven scenes and lives. In lesser hands this play would be confusing and dangerously convoluted. But with Baz at the helm, the piece flows easily.

This is mostly due to the terrific cast (Cormac Costello, Emily Dreyer, Angus Evans, Suzann James, David Jeffrey, Tasha O’Brien, Brendan Paul and Kaitlyn Thor). The play demands a certain likeness to be carried across the generations and the actors Baz has chosen definitely have this, but it has also been achieved without compromising on talent. Clear mannerisms have been defined for the characters, and are carried through the interchangeable performances.

The actors are also evenly matched skill-wise, making the transitions easy. The only minor downfall is that the use of an American accent sometimes produces a tendency to over-act, and the male cast members do tend towards this at times. But overall this is a sound team of actors who mix and match perfectly.

What I liked most about this production was the costuming. Baz has used an all-American palette of red, white and blue, but it is done in a subtle way. Each character has a distinct style, which helps the audience keep track of who’s who. Adding further to the identification are small items (a handbag, a necklace, a jacket) that are passed between the performers as they age before our eyes.

David Jeffrey’s set is simple but effective. This could be a restaurant in any city, in any country. It is generic, clean and perfectly supports the action without distracting from what is an already complex production. As with many of the Depot Theatre’s productions, the set shows how much can be achieved with a small budget and a keen eye.

The lighting design has been kept very basic, in line with the realism of the piece. The soundtrack is also kept to a minimum, with simple song choices and sound-effects adding to the atmosphere.

The Depot Theatre regularly delivers an entertaining night out and this is no exception. If you’re looking for a great value theatre experience, this is it.

The Big Meal is playing at The Depot Theatre until 4th November. For tickets, go here.

The reviewer attended opening night, Friday 20th October. Photo credit: Katy Green Loughey.