Reviewed – 13th July 2022
“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
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