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Food review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘underseasoned brew’

Emma Playfair, Lily Newbury-Freeman. Photo: The Other Richard Emma Playfair, Lily Newbury-Freeman. Photo: The Other Richard
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Steve Rodgers’s 2012 play Food (receiving its first production outside Australia) is an abrasive affair, more of a haphazard buffet than a satisfying meal.

It’s clear to see how easy it would be to become hot and bothered in a kitchen with scarcely room for two people to work comfortably, bumping into each other with the movable freezer and fryer. Elma stayed behind to run their alcoholic mother’s workmen’s takeaway, while her sister Nancy went off travelling before returning to an unenthusiastic welcome.

Cressida Brown’s production feels stifled with so much shouting. The flashbacks of childhood neglect, eating disorders and underage sex, affectedly slipping between the first and third person are physically charged but laboured. To provide lighter relief, it tries too hard to be pally by flirting with audience members and sharing food.

Emma Playfair’s performance as Elma, a good plain cook simmering with bitterness, is the highlight of the production, both sympathetic as a victim of bullying, and shocking in her cruelty as a perpetrator in the profoundly damaged sisterly relationship.

Meanwhile, it’s disappointing that Nancy (Lily Newbury-Freeman), who has been objectified her entire life and perceived by her sister as a ‘blur’, is so sketchily written as to merely exist as an alluring enigma.

Furthermore, the Turkish backpacker Hakan (Scott Karim) who talks his way into a kitchen porter job and provides a monologue recalling all the notches on his bedpost is a mere plot device and a distraction from what could be a compelling story of two sisters who have more than enough drama to explore.

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Underseasoned brew of sibling rivalry that doesn't whet the appetite for more