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Bites

Kay Adshead
Bush
(2005)

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Kay Adshead is a deeply political writer with left-wing, feminist leanings. She also has the capacity to be far more enigmatic than most. Bites combines these two traits, sometimes to dazzling and sometimes to baffling, effect.

A big clue about Kay Adshead's ambition is in the two inspirations behind the play: first, a woman from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan and secondly the playwright's own experiences in Texas since 9/11.

In a series of short scenes, with both themes and characters running through them, she contrasts the bitter life of the poor in one country with the excesses of the rich (but also the almost equally bad experiences of the downtrodden) in the other.

The most memorable scenes tend to be those that are heartbreaking rather than comical. Death is never far away in Afghanistan and in the very first episode, a man risks life and limb to obtain a little water to keep his wife and baby alive. That the dreamt-of God who may save a day is a Texan cowboy type is perhaps inevitable. All of this sounds very familiar at a time when third world debt is once again in the headlines.

The inhumanity of life under the fundamentalists is chillingly brought home, when three giggling women, both get their thrills from and lose their lives for - a taste of ice-cream.

On the American side, a human hog-roast gets out of hand as the Mexican help finds herself experiencing a humiliation close to that of the hog. Soon, things get worse as she loses a son, another cheap life.

This jigsaw of a play yields many compassionate insights into global inequality. The scenes in Afghanistan have real power to shock and provoke thought about primal issues. The same cannot always be said for those set in the United States. These get far too close to caricature, as they portray the big, rich Imperialist American devil lording it over wetbacks at home and foreigners more widely.

There is a talented ensemble of five who, as in Commedia del' Arte, tend to maintain character even when playing different parts. Primarily, they are a chef (Chris Jarman) first seen very spookily sharpening a dangerous-looking cleaver, the dirty Cookie Pottleheimer (Ishia Benison), Harry and his wife (Owen Oakeshott and Yvonne Gidden) and the sluttish Angelica (Karina Fernandez). The acting is generally strong and, under Lisa Goldman's direction, each cast member has at least one moment in the spotlight.

Bites can be very moving and is uncompromising in its condemnation of the inequalities between the world's haves and have-nots. It has the logic and poetry of dreams and this is its weakness as parts are close to unintelligible. Surprisingly, this does not always detract from Kay Adshead's important message.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher