Finborough Theatre's Food Bites Off More Than It Can Chew

But the impeccable cast make up for a somewhat overdone dish, says Bill Hagerty

Shakespeare’s suggestion that music is the food of love is all very well, but where does that leave food itself? In this sprint-paced play – 75 unbroken minutes – author Steve Rodgers offers alternatives to the opening line of Twelfth Night.

Food is the food of love, he proposes. And, maybe, of regret, too.  And of child abuse. And eating disorders and more: there are probably several other candidate emotions and experiences queuing in the wings shouting, 'Me, me'.

All well and good – there’s no limit to the number of ingredients allowed when cooking up a drama; in this case one focussing on the tensions between two sisters running a fast food takeaway in Tasmania.  The trouble here, however, is that the resulting dish ends up somewhat overdone.

In the first production of the play outside Australia, dark secrets lurk in the backgrounds of Elma and Nancy. Prettier and more vivacious than her sister, Nancy took off into the wide world outside their home but couldn’t have got very far as she’s still young and sparky when she returns.

Elma, left to look after their now deceased sluttish, hypercritical mother, bears a grudge that’s expressed by a tough exterior which is probably matched by an even tougher interior. She berates Nancy for her laziness and seemingly insouciant attitude to life. And when a chirpy Turk, Hakan, applies for work as a kitchen hand, she demonstrates her immediate distrust by waving at him a knife named Agatha,
after her grandmother, she says. Elma is one tough lady.

Episodes from their troubled pasts, effectively directed in dreamy slow motion by Cressida Brown, punctuate the present and their plans to turn the takeaway into a restaurant. The kitchen, in which most of the action is set, looked unfit for this purpose to me: designer Hannah Wolfe has done her best, employing a working stove plus a deep-fat fryer, a grubby fridge and two multi-use stepladders, but as a believable producer of culinary delights it’s the kangaroo in the room where believability is concerned.    

Nancy, aware of her sister’s deep dissatisfaction with her life, sweet talks Hakan into showing romantic interest in Elma, which the affable drifter successfully does despite his heart not really being in it. And their tiny restaurant – the Finborough’s pocket-handkerchief playing space prohibits much more than steak and chip – opens successfully, with much glee from all three and the distribution of some excellent bread among the audience.  

The truth is that the plot doesn’t add up to much more than an appetiser, but an impeccable cast ensures nobody goes home feeling hungry. Scott Karim impresses as the charming visitor, while a brace of talented Aussies, Lily Newbury-Freeman and Emma Playfair, are convincing as sisters struggling to eliminating problems of the past and securing a bright future in which their differences have no place. Newbury-Freeman, in particular, pulls out all the stops as Elma as the deep warmth of the young women’s relationship sends one home with an optimistic spring in the step.  

Food runs until 15 July, until 1 July, then from 4 - 9 and 11 - 15 July, nightly at 7.30pm with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm.  For tickets, call the box office on 0844 847 1652 or book online.

June 28, 2017