David Patterson, Edinburgh Fringe, Geordie Naylor-Leyland, Jasper Lauderdale, Jocelyn Cox, Jon Greenaway, Ollie Carr, Paradise in the Vault, Sebastian Carrington-Howell, St Andrews University, Students, Theatre Review, Tim Foley
[The following contains mild spoilers.]
Welcome to the ruling class. The pseudo-infrastructure of university clubs and societies is usually a mystery to the ninety-five per cent of students who have no time to do anything other than study. Yet the conspicuous minority who serve on committees and organise pointless “events” will always glide quite smoothly from these shallow waters into the depths of adult politics. They have learned how to network, organise people, and be politicians. Tim Foley’s latest play “Meat,” which is currently playing at Paradise in the Vault, observes a vicious power struggle over the leadership of an all-male university dining society. The President remarks that politics is no different when it is small, but here the stakes are small and they have inspired a Machiavellianism of unparalleled depravity.
Foley’s men come from St Andrews and they may be too intimate with the world of privilege to truly speak ill of it. The cast have names like Jasper and Sebastian and Geordie Naylor-Leyland. They have created a mock website for the institution featured in the play, “The Catherine’s Club,” but most people, if they found it, would only think that this was a real website for a real St Andrews’ dining club. Yet my customary bigotry towards the rich could always be misplaced. Those double-barrelled surnames may come from coal mining families. “Meat” never mentions St Andrews by name and the intended setting could for all I know be Milton Keynes.
Three members of the committee and an invited “witness” meet for an informal dinner. The audience are ushered towards the dining table by a caretaker (David Patterson), and he clues us in on the history of the club. We first meet the President, Charlie Moon (Jasper Lauderdale), who delivers a long but very droll anecdote about a tribe from Thailand, if seemingly just for his own entertainment. The fruity Moon is in his element presiding over his immensely masculine club, but his obsession with proper masculine conduct seems to have left him unduly obsessed with young men. The supposedly more tolerant members who want to make the club more politically correct are now effectively on the verge of impeaching him for homosexuality.
To say that Moon dominates the play is an understatement. His elegant crescent of a character gradually waxes to outshine the whole performance. Moon is joined at dinner by three different shades of fall guy and a rather suspect mentally-underdeveloped character, but as his dining companions are confounded, the play increasingly resembles a soliloquy. The play’s game is initially to manage our expectations, and it does this with a deft touch, but once our questions about Moon are answered, it is as if the story has been punctured somewhere and all of the suspense is issuing out of it. The room may start to choke on Moon’s unending voice and its rounded New England vowels.
All of the performances are as impeccable as the dinner attire, and the miscalculation ultimately lies in the writing. Not only does Moon triumph via some rather unlikely means, but he is so splendid a character that he will naturally begin to take over the play if left unattended. Foley has failed to create any adversaries who are formidable enough to counter the President’s brilliance and the play ends as a paean to his innate superiority. It all comes back to privilege in the end.