Originally written for Exeunt: http://exeuntmagazine.com/reviews/review-food-finborough-theatre/ Photo by The Other Richard.
- A takeaway food shop in Tasmania
Place is central to Food by Steve Rogers (and food can conjure far off places, as the play shows). For Rogers’ characters, food is a locus for memory, a source of anxiety, a livelihood, and a metaphor for desire.
The design by Hannah Wolfe deftly places the audience in Elma and Nancy’s takeaway and family home. A chest freezer, deep fat fryer, and working cooker, with ladders on either side, box the characters into a couple of square metres of cooking space, capturing a sense of claustrophobia.
- Two sisters
While Nancy (Lily Newbury-Freeman) disappeared when she was 17, Elma (Emma Playfair) stayed to manage the takeaway and their alcoholic mum. Now, with their mum gone, Nancy is back but Elma hasn’t forgiven her. At first the sisters seem like opposites. Elma is a hard-nosed, control freak. Nancy preens and dreams of stardom.
The sisters break out of the naturalistic setting to physicalise and vocalise their aggression towards each other in shoves and grunts, which are neither very subtle nor fit with the style of the play. Newbury-Freeman and Playfair’s characterisation grows more complex through flashbacks to formative moments in their teenage years.
- A romantic traveller
Hakan (Scott Karim) turns up when the sisters are in need of a kitchen boy, vivacious, flirtatious and exotic. It is hard not to warm to Karim’s humorous and lyrical portrayal of his character and his engagement with the audience. He has some lovely speeches about his home in Turkey and his approach to food. However, sometimes these speeches veer into exoticism. The love triangle (or at least sexual tension triangle) that Hakan’s arrival creates also seems a disappointingly easy plot device.
Food is as much about sex as it is about food. However, neither the director (Cressida Brown) nor the playwright seem to have a handle on the sexual politics the play is propagating. Firstly there is a sexist and oversimplistic understanding of sex. Elma and Hakan seem to agree that sex is all men want; Hakan has an unnecessarily long monologue in which he exhaustively recounts his sexual conquests to the audience. Nancy later persuades Hakan to have sex with her sister, offering him to make it worth his while, while batting her eyelashes at him. Postcoital Elma sings in the shower. She has the aura of sex about her. She is a changed woman.
What made me most uncomfortable was Food’s treatment of sexual assault. In one flashback, it is revealed that 16-year-old Elma walked in on 14-year-old Nancy having sex with multiple boys at once. Nancy did not give consent but it is not framed by the play as rape; Elma did not try to stop it. Later, Hakan and Elma’s consensual sexual encounter is staged at the same time Nancy talks about how her mother’s boyfriend walked in on her in the shower and had sex with her – again not framed as rape. The sisters never have a conversation about what happened. It feels like sexual assault is used as a plot device, a handy trauma to explain the sisters’ attitudes to men and each other.
- A sprinkling of issues
Alcoholism, sexual abuse, rape, eating disorders and racism are all invoked in the play. However, the impact these things have on the characters’ lives are not explored. The play is not really about these things at all – it is about two sisters running a takeaway. But if they are going to be included as backstory they need to be handled with more care.
- A cupboardful of theatrical modes
Gritty realism, flashbacks, physical theatre, inexplicable third-person narration at various points, a half-hearted gesture towards audience interaction when Hakan and Nancy welcome us to the restaurant and hand out bread.
Combine in a small theatre space and simmer for 90 minutes
The resulting play is a sort of soup, like the minestrone recipes included on the programme. It has lots of different bits in; the different strands of the production do not cohere into something easily digestible.
Tuesday 20th June – Saturday 15th July
Director: Cressida Brown
Playwright: Steve Rogers
Designer: Hannah Wolfe
Movement direction: Ita O’Brien
Sound design: Jon Macleod
Lighting design: Richard Williamson
Cast: Scott Karim, Lily Newbury-Freeman, Emma Playfair