Home » London Theatre Reviews » Chilli Con Carne – Lion & Unicorn Theatre | Review

Chilli Con Carne – Lion & Unicorn Theatre | Review

As I was brought up in London, the nursery rhyme One for Sorrow wasn’t one I came across, and I don’t recall ever paying attention to spotting magpies or how many there were. A version (there are, apparently, several) bookends not only the show but each scene – “one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never told”. The number of magpies seen (together in the same place at the same time, that is) determines if the person seeing it will have bad luck or not. I’m not entirely sure, on reflection, quite what the link was between the rhyme and the story, as there’s little indication that what goes on is the result of any of the characters being dealt a proverbial bad hand.

The cast of Chilli Con Carne.
The cast of Chilli Con Carne.

At face value, the trio might well get emotional within reason, but they are essentially dealing with first world problems. Sonia suddenly reappears in Ash’s Newcastle home – she still has a front door key having lived there previously, when Ash’s parents owned the property (whether Ash was subjected to inheritance tax is another conversation for another time) after a decade-long absence. Thin Lizzy’s 1977 single ‘Dancing in the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me in Its Spotlight)’ was apparently Sonia and Ash’s song – as in, the tune they referred to as ‘our song’. Sonia heard it in a London taxi and it triggered such a strong emotional response that she felt she had to visit Ash.

Except Ash is engaged to Tom, so any chance of rekindling what once was is slim to say the least. Fair enough – it seems unreasonable for Ash to wait for an indeterminate period for Sonia to return, even if, in these days of ubiquitous mobile telephony and social media, they kept in touch. It naturally follows, then, that Tom already knew about Sonia, although they had never met in person before, though Ash seems, perhaps understandably, rather cagey about how much Tom knows about their past.

“Forget the death admin, let’s just get pissed”, Sonia encourages Ash, the latter dealing with her late mother’s estate as well as wedding planning, and now an ex-lover suddenly showing up. One thing leads to another and – in a plot detail that screams ‘contrived’, Tom is not at home that evening, because he’s working late. Circumstances in the subsequent scene dictate that Ash is not at home when Tom arrives from work, leaving him alone with Sonia. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what happens – it is too much of a giveaway to spell it out here, suffice to say it drew audible gasps from some in the audience.

The trio are at least confident enough to tell all in a later scene at the dinner table (hence the show’s title), and more plot twists and misinterpretations follow. The conclusion is left open-ended, leaving the audience to ruminate (or not) as to what happens to the characters. Some more light-hearted moments are quite revealing, such as Tom and Sonia’s attempts to prove their love for Ash is greater. It’s not a romantic comedy – it’s more sophisticated and nuanced than that – but I felt invested in these characters as they worked their way through some of life’s intriguing challenges. A thoughtful yet facetious production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Charles Maddison – Tom
Tor Lighten – Sonia
Sarah Vickers – Ash

Director: Hugo Papiernik
Writer: Sarah Vickers
Theatre Designer: Emilia Mendez
Assistant Directors: Natasha Biggs and Roisin Cook
Dance Director: Bret Jones
Singing Director: Rebecca Blanchard
Lighting Designer: Trekessa Austin

Death and taxes – the only two certainties in life. That and complex, painful human relationships. At sixteen, Ash and Sonia fall in love. But their story hits an awkward brick wall: their respective parents have fallen for each other too.

When Sonia’s father dies, she runs off to London, only to come back to Newcastle ten years later. No longer sisters or lovers, these strangers rediscover their complex love amidst grief, regret, and Ash’s ‘wonderfully normal’ life with her fiancé, Tom. Wires cross, and threads get pulled, leaving Ash with a heartbreaking decision to make, over a bowl of her mother’s famous Chilli Con Carne…

Messy Kind presents
Lion and Unicorn Theatre, 29 and 30 June 2024
Alphabetti Theatre (Newcastle Fringe), 18 to 20 July 2024
Etcetera Theatre (Camden Fringe), 31 July to 4 August 2024


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