Review: Dinner With The 42’s – dating and connecting in a world of cacotopia- in Scott Sparrow’s new play

Dinner With The 42’s by Scott Sparrow

When:  November 8 to 19 , 2022, at 7pm with matinees at 2.30pm
Where: Baxter Masambe Theatre
Diretor: Greg Karvellas
Cast: Emily Child, Nicholas Pauling and Brent Palmer
Design (set, costumes, lighting): Niall Griffin
Booking: Webtickets online at  or at Pick n Pay stores.
There is an age restriction of 16 years.    

Niall Griffin fabulously sleek set for Dinner With The 42’s is like another character in this dating drama set in a dystopian and cacotopian world. I googled the etymology of dystopia [introduced 1844] and saw that cacotopia [1818] predates former in terms of usage. Whatever, the terminology, both signify a world where everything is not okay. Things have gone pear shaped in Scott Sparrow’s Dinner With The 42’s. We see Eva (Emily Child) and Burn (Nicholas Pauling) are thrown together in a Human Breeding Facility for the purpose of mating. Humans are on the brink of extinction and it is over to them to get on with producing a healthy a viable baby – if not they will become fodder for others- and the ovens beckon (shades of Nazi death camps).

Griffin’s set reminds me of a day, I spent a day at health and beauty spa in Cape Town, having treatments as part of a lifestyle assignment. The spa was situated in a green belt – with birds chirping and bees buzzing. Stepping inside, the interiors were hard edged, sleek and polished and the outside was blocked out. It looked beautiful but I was overwhelmed by a sense of sterility and claustrophobia. I was asked (for ‘hygiene’ reasons) to surrender my undies and to don disposable ware. My bag, phone and key went into a locker. A robotic attendant with a clip board took down my medical history. I  had a sense that perhaps everything was being monitored by cameras, dangling from the ceiling, that I was being watched and observed. This is par for the course for institutions, prisons, camps, cults- to strip one of one’s possessions and identity. Claustrophobia and alienation is vividly conveyed through Griffin’s set- trapping the protagonists – and heightening their vulnerability.

In Dinner With The 42’s, the fear and confusion of Eva (Emily Child) is palpable as she is stripped of her possessions and identity. Eva and Burn are in lockdown and have been tagged 42, out of a number of couples. Out of the sterility and clinical space, sealed off from the outside, they connect through language (delicious dialogue by Sparrow- look out for the omelette) as they circle each other – sifting through what was and what is out there. For example, Burn asks Eva, if there are still trees and waterfalls “out there”. There is a sense of their panic, as they clutch on to memory, in the fear that it will disappear. All that will remain is the memory of the world. Within this space of coercion and their enforced mating, there is the possibility of transcending the trajectory laid out for them. Dinner With The 42’s becomes an off-beat love story, a relationship story, with loads of funny moments. It is dark and disturbing play but it is also an entertaining play.

It is a treat to see Child and Pauling on stage again. Their comic timing is fabulous as they size each other up. In their mutual flummoxed state, they are faced with the third protagonist (Brent Palmer) and his hyper absurd manifestation into their dating game. I will not plot spoil as to how it ends. Greg Karvellas in the director’s seat, conducts the verbal rallying between the couple – as they loop off and around each other.  My feeling is that this play and its beautiful, big set, needs a bigger venue than the Masambe Theatre. We were squashed together in a packed theatre (wonderful to see a full house after lockdown). I would have liked space to view this narrative, with some distance to see this drama play out.

In the world post lockdowns and Covid (well, Covid is still around but we are not in lockdown), there is a need on many levels to recalibrate – person-to-person. Online dating, phone sex has become the norm for many. When people meet, it often falls apart as they have lost the art of conversation in real time and in real space. In this play, Eva and Burn are in many ways robotic as they search for words and ways to understand each other and their shared reality. I recently read, To Paradise, the 2022 dystopian/cacotopian novel by American novelist Hanya Yanagihara and was hooked and repelled by the disturbing vision that she conjures up – with paradise a mythical and elusive state. In the end, it is the doggedness of humans for connection, love, care for each other and most importantly sharing (whatever we have), that gives us hope. Dinner with the 42’s is a stylish, sophisticated and quirky relationship play which taps deeply into our anxieties of the realities of climate change, complexities of mating and procreating and our slippery and tenuous grip on the world.

✳ Featured image by Daniel Rutand Manners. Images supplied.