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Milk & Honey – two absurdist one-act plays

There’s a fair amount open to interpretation in this double bill, in which it is entirely possible to expend too much effort trying to figure out what exactly is happening, and more to the point, why. Is the first half, Milk, doing the sort of thing, albeit on a considerably smaller scale, that the 2004 disaster (in more ways than one) motion picture did? That is, use copious amounts of the world’s resources to demonstrate that copious amounts of the world’s resources are being used by the human race, in a manner that is both irresponsible and unsustainable.

Milk & Honey - two absurdist one-act playsOld Woman (a better name couldn’t be found for Clare Almond’s character, apparently) has the sole purpose of clearing up after everyone else, but mostly Jabber (Caius Nicholas). She is chained, loosely enough for her to reach practically anywhere within the room, but there is no actual escape, rather like those people who are metaphorically chained to their desks, trying in vain to get their inboxes down to zero, or who are booked into a Workaholics Anonymous meeting but cancel because they ‘need’ to do overtime.

Then there’s a Visitor (Andira Crichlow), known to Jabber but unknown to Bobby (Emily Hardy) – the Visitor’s civility stands in marked contrast to Bobby’s ‘eff, cee and effing cee’ approach. Bobby hams up almost everything she says to the point that Jabber takes one of her many sweary putdowns and repeats it several times over rather giddily. The largely inarticulate Jabber eventually comes through with a sudden outburst of seemingly unrelated ramblings, but it wasn’t clear to me why that particular round of drinking milk resulted in a flood of memories, some of which stretched back to his school days. Then again, that’s absurdism for you.

The interval would have been unnecessary were it not for the need to completely reset the stage, and indeed it looked markedly different for the start of Honey, which featured (at a very rough visual estimate on my part) just as much honey as there was milk in the first half. Honey was more focused and more relatable than its predecessor: talk of satisfying thirst through eating (rather than drinking) comes across as peculiar until such time as one makes the connection between honey being consumed by worker bees, who feed on honey to refuel whenever they return to their hive.

The production suggests – without being preachy about it – that there are too many people who live to work, rather than work to live. The ‘drone’ in this group of workers serves his purpose, known only as Two (Nicholas) propagating the species, after having told Three (Almond) that he is ‘always horny’. He only has eyes, so to speak, for One (Crichlow), a sort of queen bee. There’s a harrowing display of one worker bee’s duties immediately being reassigned to Four (Hardy) once that worker’s time is up, with corpses treated with the kind of uncompromising ruthlessness that drew gasps even from this unassuming audience. It’s as good a reminder as any for people to make the most out of life – we only get one shot at it.

This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s some food for thought in amongst the actual on-stage provisions. Bold and exploratory, this production is, to quote the show itself, “not bad”.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Milk
“Do you want the baby to starve, to waste away, to be no longer!?”

Milk is a fast-paced work observing two siblings dealing with loss, a slave, and a visitor who enters from the sky and disrupts their lives. Milk explores ritual, torture, death, and the hope of new beginnings.

Honey
“Got to keep him interested don’t we, we have to make sure he always wants you twenty-four-seven”

Honey employs bee-like behaviour to explore human relations. Characters are numbered One through Four, each with a unique role. Honey investigates life cycles, hardwired impulses, and their effect on relationships through repetitive action and disruptions in speech patterns.

24th-25th July 2022
https://www.thehopetheatre.com/

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