Images: Kate Box and Emma Jackson | Supplied
Not a co-pro with the host company but a buy-in or presentation by La Boite Theatre Company as part of its 2013 Season, this production co-directed by Kate Champion and writer Steve Rodgers‘ FOOD is a delicious, light confection with some rewarding chewy bits. Buy-ins (or ‘brought ins’ as I heard this referred to during the week) of work made outside a producing company’s own house are contentious beasts for some – seen as filling a season spot with an import and taking away work from local artists. Others are delighted that companies provide theatre-goers with the opportunity to see excellent work from beyond in our ‘common-wealth of national Theatres’ (hat tip to the late, great Bille Brown who introduced me to this term and concept). Whatever your thinking on the matter (and I’m pretty partisan about this), there is no doubt that it’s a good thing to have the opportunity to see excellent work from outside your own patch from time to time.
So, to FOOD … set in a roadhouse somewhere on one of Australia’s highways, two sisters Elma (Kate Box) and Nancy (Emma Jackson) work together in the kitchen chopping and yarning together – women’s business. Occasionally, threads from the past emerge but it’s clear there is deep tension between them and the right words are hard to find. Nancy (the younger sister) is a bit of a tearaway it seems, and wants the far too settled and unfulfilled Elma to break out from Chicko Rolls and fast food to the kind of comfort food their mother used to make. Elma takes a chance and they make the culinary switch.
Into the not quite so comfortable kitchen and their lives comes Hakan (Fayssal Bazzi) as a hired kitchen hand. Hakan’s exotic and charming ways spice up their lives. The new cuisine is a hit and, no surprises here, after a drunken night of celebrating Elma and Hakan have sex. Embarraseed, he flees the scene leaving the two sisters to clean up the aftermath.
It’s a simple story – one told often about an outsider who brings change (for better or worse) to a settled community. Here it’s made all the more affecting by the authenticity of Mr Rodger’s dab hand at crafting vernacular dialogue and setting it off against the rapid-fire English of the Turk, Hakan. Add then, there’s the splendid performances of the cast where there’s not a missed beat in the playing; focused, playful, satisfying and as silky and smooth as a stream of dark chocolate.
The (clever) Set and Costume Design by Anna Tregloan creates the world of the kitchen and is just perfect for the Roundhouse and, I imagine, touring – though I did imagine Stage Management would need to have a numbered plan for placing all of those pots and pans in the right place. Sound Designer and Composer Ekrem Mulayim and Lighting and Audio Visual Designer Martin Langthorne complement and add to the interior and exterior landscape of the characters’ worlds with their designs.
I heard some complaints on opening night about the speech’s being too fast for comprehension. I was in the front row hoping for a morsel from the table (I got bread) and would agree that the overlapping dialogue (which I love as a convention, by the way) combined with the tempo of the delivery could have caused problems further back in the room – The Roundhouse isn’t known for its sympathy in this regard. Others were puzzled by Ms Champion’s work on several movement sequences in the play. These provide a more visceral, direct, and more lyrical telling of the sisters’ often verbally incoherent narrative. I was reminded of the famous phrase, ‘the tragedy of the inarticulate,’ that a critic once applied to Summer of the 17th Doll on its first production.
Whilst I understand that some may have been disconcerted by the combination of naturalistic playing techniques, break-out dance, third and first person dialogue swapping, projections and fourth-wall breaking (I told you about the bread – other luckier audience members got soup and/or wine), I found the smorgasbord of theatricality perfectly in sync with what I think lies at the heart of this play: the notion that opening your mind and heart to change can lead to all sorts of wonderful surprises and marvellous opportunities.