Paines Plough and Belgrade Theatre
The Roundabout, Victoria Park, Swinton
Food has become such a sensitive issue, it is a wonder any of us dare to eat. There is the fear a gaff in a restaurant will reveal our humble social origins or lack of education. Eating at home is fraught with worries about whether it is insensitive to use a recipe from another culture or if the food comes from a local supplier or its transport has had a negative impact on the environment. Chris Bush’s Hungry examines these complexities in a thought-provoking and highly entertaining manner and even adds the spice of a modern love affair.
Lori (Eleanor Sutton) is a professional chef and so committed to her craft she takes offence at someone eating a Pot Noodle. Lori’s justifiable pride in her talents and achievements may, however, have made her insensitive to people who do not share her aspirations. Bex (Leah St Luce) seems to revel in being an underachiever, is content to wait tables and bristles at the thought of social advancement. They are attracted to each other but their very different attitudes to life and an uncomfortable awareness of social class strains the relationship.
Bush’s characters are extremely well-drawn and credible. Both are defensive and concealing their true feelings. Lori’s default persona is to hide behind professionalism, but there is an almost charming gaucheness to the way she cannot avoid putting her foot in her mouth. Her explanation it would be embarrassing if Bex continued to wait tables draws the cool response: "for who?". Bex is overwhelmed by her inferiority complex and hides behind a smartarse personality. Bex uses her social class as an excuse to avoid having to make any decisions or better herself and resents, possibly fears, Lori pushing for improvement.
The script is light and witty—the slender Lori described as a "skinny, flat white"—but refreshingly complex. It runs from the optimistic viewpoint people can surprise you to a blistering closing monologue from Bex that is close to embracing nihilism.
Director Kate Posner balances the lightness in the script with an edgy atmosphere drawing out the underlying conflict between the characters. Scene changes are marked by the couple slamming kitchen utensils at each other as if on the edge of violence.
The performances are excellent. Lori may feel she is taking an educational approach to Bex, but Eleanor Sutton does not hide the judgemental side of her personality. Sutton’s body language is impatient; her leg twitches as she waits for Bex to stop talking so she can start her counterargument. Leah St Luce’s passionate performance suggests Bex may be motivated by a fear of failure so intense she would prefer to do nothing than risk humiliation. Her argument that as societal inequalities cannot be resolved, individuals should not seek self-improvement is worryingly like saying we would all be happier knowing our place in society.
Hungry leaves audiences with an appetite for plays of equal quality.
Reviewer: David Cunningham