THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE at Greenwich Theatre online
The After-Dinner Joke, Caryl Churchill’s great satire on corporate philanthropism, may be 43 years old but shockingly, as director James Haddrell’s online production for Greenwich Theatre showed, it’s as relevant today as it was when it first appeared in 1978. Perhaps even more so.
Over the course of an hour or so, we watch as the ideals of young fund-raiser Selby (Doxah Dzidzor) are eroded away by a toxic combination of cynical capitalism, political and industrial realities, celebrity exploitation, post-colonial guilt and sheer worldweariness until her dream of doing good for the less fortunate of the planet ends in her walking away from the charity world and settling into life as an executive in a money-making conglomerate.
It’s a bleak downward arc. But thanks to the cast of 35 and Haddrell’s light touch it manages to be genuinely funny, even though our laughter is tempered with a sense of guilt as we are introduced to a motley crew of grotesques including a rabid xenophobe, an oleaginous government foreign aid minister and a paedophile pop star.
We also eavesdrop - excruciatingly - on an advertisement brainstorming session which includes Selby suggesting they use the image of an emaciated child killed by famine with the motto: This is your fault. As I said, the play remains depressingly pertinent.
Dzidzor is terrific as Selby, capturing the character’s descent from youthfully infectious idealism to her final surrender to the pitiless forces of capitalism.
Mary Tillett neatly balances her entrepreneur’s need for profit with a desire to be a philanthropist, Sonali Singh does a fine job as a smooth-talking, cold-hearted PR and Sara Galvin (above, with Dzidzor) is a treat as a python-loving, left-leaning mayor who smilingly but ruthlessly obliges Selby to cast aside, like a snake shedding its skin, her naïve belief that all charity is non-political.
This is a tremendous production of a tremendous play and will be streamed on Greenwich Theatre’s YouTube channel until March 28. For details of how to get tickets – and I really urge you to – go to https://greenwichtheatre.org.uk/events/the-after-dinner-joke-online/