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Review of FOOD by Steve Rodgers at Finborough Theatre

Emma Playfair, Lily Newbury-Freeman Credit The Other Richard
Emma Playfair, Lily Newbury-Freeman Credit The Other Richard

Steve Rodgers’ Food, which premiered in Sydney in 2012, centres on a Tasmanian takeaway food joint run by two sisters, Elma and Nancy. On the surface, the two sisters struggle to form a working relationship, and their differences are further highlighted when Hakan arrives, a Turkish Casanova looking for work as a kitchen hand. Underneath their petty squabbles and sibling rivalry, however, lies a multitude of much darker issues waiting to raise their murky heads, threatening to destroy the precarious business the girls have (somewhat reluctantly) set up.

In truth, there are a lot of dense topics to digest in this play: teenage drinking, mother issues, underage sex, child abuse, rape, abandonment, ethnic diversity, and eating disorders. At least the latter might be expected from a play called Food – but the remainder is somewhat hefty, without perhaps being given the due space and exploration they deserve in this short, 90-minute piece. It is also unclear why the coquettish Nancy (a mincing Lily Newbury-Freeman) thinks that her older belligerent, naysaying sister Elma (played beautifully by Emma Playfair) should be seduced by the vivacious, cheeky Hakan (Scott Karim) when his clear preference is for Nancy herself. Perhaps the ambiguous motivation of each character is intended to add to the intrigue; occasionally, however, it simply serves to frustrate. That said, the story arch nicely delivers its verdict that blood is thicker than water in this recipe we call life, whilst highlighting the complex role that families play, given their capacity as supporters and destroyers, depending on which hand you are dealt.

The story itself is supported by a versatile, movable set, designed (by Hannah Wolfe) to evoke numerous spaces and levels, and some excellent movement direction by Ita O’Brien, adding a more abstract element to the storytelling.

Cressida Brown’s direction is also on point, maximising the use of the small, intimate space, and involving the audience as much as possible, to great effect. Choosing to seat the audience in traverse also helps cement the central commonality between us – the act of preparing, cooking and eating food. The universality of this is highlighted in the mix of Turkish, Australian and British individuals under one roof. It seems Rodgers wants us to see that our approaches towards the preparation of a good meal, and ideas surrounding the very function of food itself, are reflective of our attitudes to love, family, and even our own identities. Food for thought indeed.

4 stars

Review by Amy Stow

The premiere production outside Australia
FOOD
by Steve Rodgers.
Directed by Cressida Brown.
Lighting by Richard Williamson. Sound by Jon McLeod. Movement Direction by Ita O’Brien.
Presented by NewPlay Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.
Cast: Scott Karim. Lily Newbury-Freeman. Emma Playfair.

“ ‘Member when you were smart? Year six, start of high school, you know, fractions, Pythagoras’s thing, all that?
One day, just like that, ya got dumb, made yourself dumb, like that was more attractive.”
In its first production outside Australia, acclaimed Australian drama Food opens at the Finborough Theatre for a four week limited season on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 (Press Nights: Thursday, 22 June and Friday 23 June 2017 at 7.30pm).

Nancy left, choosing chaos, freedom and sex. Elma stayed behind and cooked.
Now Nancy is back.
On a stretch of Australian highway, sisters Elma and Nancy run their family takeaway joint – their days heavy with deep frying and memories. While they quietly wage war with their past and dream of a brighter future, a young life-loving Turkish traveller arrives, bringing a charm and sensuality that turns their world upside down.

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