THE setting may be unfamiliar, but make no mistake, this is Neil Simon at his witty and incisive best.
While the first act is as light and frothy as the champagne quaffed by the guests, the master playwright delves deeper into human relationships after the break, sharing with us some priceless lines and pearls of wisdom. In fact, some of the dialogue is so brilliant it prompted gasps of disbelief from this lifelong Neil Simon fan. If such a thing as reincarnation exists, what a pleasure it would have been to have come back as this man's typewriter.
The setting is a rather posh French restaurant and six well to do diners with a connection to one another have all been invited to dine together by a mysterious host, whose identity is only revealed later in the play.
Director John Chidgey has coaxed some fine and convincing performances from a strong cast which gels together without seeming to try. I challenge anyone not to warm to John Westbrook's Albert, a study in social awkwardness. The initial interaction between him and Claude (Steve Cunio) is comedy gold, with Westbrook displaying flawless comic timing.
Emily Duffy impresses as the elegant Mariette but for me, the female performance of the evening comes from Kathryn Fennell as the knowing Gabriellle, a character you would cross at your peril.
The Dinner Party maybe laugh out loud funny and one of the funniest episodes comes when Claude shares one of his sexual fantasies with the captivated group, but this is a quietly touching piece in so many ways. Not to be missed.
* Until March 24. The box office is on 0161 928 1113. Star rating - ****