That Sinking Feeling

Washed up: David Essex (Dressler) and Rik Makarem (Emmett) amid the mountains of  washing up

The Dishwashers

Malvern Theatres

***

There is no doubt that David Essex has become something of an institution in likeability. He seems tobe a nice chap and even when he gets angry there is a Jack the Lad, I didn’t  really mean it quality about him but in many instances that serves to wash out the potential tension in Morris Panych’s play, The Dishwashers.

It’s set in the basement of some never named restaurant where the lowly paid dishwashers receive the soiled diners’ pates from the never named staff above. It could be any date in time as we never exactly find that out but it predates the rise of the machine as everything is washed by hand.

Essex plays Dressler a man who has spent considerable time in the dead end job but has come to dispense his own brand of philosophy on life and the merits of the menial tasks he performs for the restaurant, elevating then into great art and social necessity.

He is joined by Emmett, (Rik Makarem) a Yuppie if that word still exists, who has appeared to have lost a financial fortune. Again we never find out how he has now ended up dishwashing but all we know is he is still bitter over his mistakes and fall in social standing.

The third employee of the still room is Moss (Andrew Jarvis ) an old wreck of man who has spent his life in servitude. Whilst he seems harmless he has a cup and saucer short of a place setting with his disturbing mental flashbacks of images of an incident that again we never get to find out about.

Panych’s idea is that great wisdom or character does not have to come from those who aspire to the limelight but simple folk who inhabit the edges of our lives with unnoticed but still worthy jobs.

The problem with Dishwashers is, that whilst there is a lot of talking, no one really has anything to say. Panych fails to break any one of his characters into a definitive conclusion about anything and the what ifs pile up higher than the dishes.  In the end there so much you want to know but are never told that you just don’t care.

Dressler more than once says to Emmet that he finds something he has said interesting as if he now has wisdom on the matter. Then when questioned `if he finds it interesting?’ Dressler replies `no’ and changes the subject. The response raises a laugh or two but the constant change of direction leaves the subject unanswered and it’s this kind of frivolity in the dialogue that makes the whole play hard to get a grip on.

What is also unnerving is director Nikolai Foster handling of the scene changes. Previously used to large spectaculars in the West End each scene is closed with a dramatic black shutter effect and with a thunderous, percussive and electronic soundtrack. It all promises the next scene will build to an even greater degree only to open again to more of the same. In the end the effect becomes tiresome and an unnecessary inclusion on what is often a quiet introspective and intellectual view of life.

Young Emmet is chastised throughout for his ambition to want to rebuild his life and escape the prison of the washroom but towards the end I found myself siding and agreeing with him having similar feelings myself but stayed till the final curtain anyway.

It’s not all bad , there are moments of poignancy and Essex shows some depth as an actor However if he  needs, or even if he is looking, for greater acceptance of his ability, then Dishwashers won’t exactly send his career down the plughole but it won’t put him in the top drawer either. To 22-03-14.

Jeff Grant 

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