“sometimes funny, but mostly heart-breaking, and brilliantly told”
It seems mad that something so silly as lunch can be so heated and rich in discussion, but it is. Somehow it draws in everything else that’s important: Family, culture, politics, self-worth. Everything can be got at by discussing what you just ate, be it a chicken nugget or an oyster. And in the case of Hungry, it’s both a chicken nugget and an oyster.
Lori, a highly strung chef, hires Bex as a waiter, and from their first day, there’s a pull between them. Both could talk for England, and both are bold and vivacious. But Lori shows her love by wanting to show Bex what she’s missing; all the finer things, “Chicken nuggets are not special, your life is not special. But it should be.” And whilst Bex knows there’s something wrong about this, she struggles to name it, particularly when Lori is so impassioned and enthusiastic.
This is not a story about goodies versus baddies. It’s about the good intentions of a white woman being misguided and patronising; a clash of heritage- both class and race. And, as a white audience member, that makes it both very uncomfortable to watch and very necessary. Because it’s uncomfortable when someone looks you in the eye, and gently but firmly tells you you’re wrong.
Writer Chris Bush has a way of writing dialogue that is simultaneously vernacular and rhapsodic, incorporating the personal with the political, so you never feel the characters are simply mouthpieces for a more important message. The first few scenes feel a bit manic, but the energetic characters can account for that, plus it’s a lot to fit in to 70 minutes, and presumably Bush wanted to get a wiggle on.
Two metal trolley tables act as pretty much the whole set. Slamming together at the beginning of a scene, or moving gently apart, they serve as worktop, kitchen table, bedframe, battleground. With two such strong characters, there’s really no need for much else, and the simplicity of Lydia Denno’s design means that, for example, when Bex starts stamping on crisp packets and throwing crisps around like confetti, it’s all the more affecting.
Melissa Lowe and Eleanor Sutton are electric together, matched in spirit and quality of performance. Their timing is immaculate, interrupting and withholding in exquisite tandem. Both roles are difficult in their own ways: Lowe’s Bex is mouthy and quick-witted, but she’s on the back foot in this relationship, which seems a strange amalgam in theory, but makes perfect sense in this performance. Similarly, Sutton’s Lori is nervous and neurotic, but she holds the power. Her arguments are thoughtful and persuasive, and yet deeply problematic- a difficult balance to pull off without seeming disingenuous.
This isn’t really about food, but food is the perfect vehicle for its message, because it is both universal, and personal; unifying and segregating. In short, it’s complicated and important, as is the story of Hungry, sometimes funny, but mostly heart-breaking, and brilliantly told.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by The Other Richard
Soho Theatre until 30th July ahead of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 3rd-28th August
“Holy What’s excruciatingly incisive and nuanced production wrenches this classical play from its historical resting place and plants it firmly in the modern canon”
Honestly, Greek plays make me think of my GCSE drama theory, and just the idea of actually sitting through one makes me want to take a nap. Fortunately, Holy What’s production is having none of that.
Antigone (Annabel Baldwin) and Ismene (Rachel Hosker), two teenage sisters, are holding up the home front whilst their brothers fight against one another in a war for leadership of the city. The sisters spend their time playing games, talking about boys and sex, and venturing in to city’s nightlife.
When the soldiers finally return, both brothers are dead. Creon, their uncle and the newly appointed leader of the city, proclaims that one brother will be honourably buried and the other will be left unburied on the battlefield. Antigone insists that no-one should be punished this way, no matter their crime. Despite Creon’s decree of death for anyone who tries to bury her brother’s body, Antigone is insistent.
And that is the shortest possible synopsis for the ultimate Greek tragedy. On top of that, we’ve got incest, lots of tragic death, heroic acts, love, and let’s not forget the thing that brings it all together, the lashings and lashings of family drama. All this, undertaken by a two-hander in one act.
Under Ali Pidsley’s direction, Antigone focuses solely on the intense relationship between the sisters. Clearly far less interested in the particular twists and turns of the original character-packed plot, Lulu Raczka’s script is an immensely intimate portrayal of sisterly love. Whilst the generalities of Sophocles’ plot remains, the dialect is hyper modern. But somehow, despite plenty of talk of battlefields and death by starvation in a cave, it doesn’t feel uncomfortably anachronistic. Instead, we’re thoroughly drawn in to crushing moral dilemmas, and the impossible choices between doing the right thing and doing what’s necessary to survive.
The performances of both Baldwin and Hosker are heartbreakingly honest. Their delivery so closely mirrors the intimate nuances of sisterly love that if it weren’t for the fact that this is a rewrite of a Greek drama, I’d assume a lot of the script was verbatim.
The setting (Lizzy Leech), a small tiered platform filled with soil, evades complete understanding but is effective nonetheless. The dirt provides a play pit for the sisters in their jollier moments, and evidence of Antigone’s actions later in the plot. And all that aside, it provides a pleasing texture to a story that otherwise requires few props.
Lighting (Tim Kelly) and sound (Kieran Lucas), both deceptively simple, play almost as much of a role in this production as the script. Lucas’ score artfully navigates between low ominous rumbles, thumping soundscapes and noughties R&B. Kelly’s lighting is similarly emotionally calculating and playful, amping up the drama when a two-person cast can’t quite cut it.
My only real criticism for this production is that the soundtrack was a little too loud at various points – I had to plug my ears for a good couple of minutes in the middle, and I was still capable of hearing everything. And my other criticism would be that I’d appreciate if the lights stayed down for a minute or two at the end so that no-one could see my runny nose and blood-shot eyes. That’s right, I was completely crushed by a Greek tragedy.
Holy What’s excruciatingly incisive and nuanced production wrenches this classical play from its historical resting place and plants it firmly in the modern canon. What a way to start the new year.