Image: Finborough Theatre
“Member when you were smart?
Year six, start of high school, you know, fractions, Pythagoras’s thing, all that?
One day, just like that, ya got dumb, made yourself dumb, like that was more attractive.”
Nancy left, choosing chaos, freedom and sex.
Elma stayed behind and cooked.
Now Nancy is back.
On a stretch of Australian highway, sisters Elma and Nancy run their family takeaway joint - their days heavy with deep frying and memories.
While they quietly wage war with their past and dream of a brighter future, a young life-loving Turkish traveller arrives, bringing a charm and sensuality that turns their world upside down.
Food is the first production outside Australia of Australian playwright Steve Rodgers, directed by Cressida Brown, the Artistic Director of Offstage Theatre, and director of the critically acclaimed Amphibians and Walking the Tightrope.
We all appreciate the convenience of a takeaway, but rarely spare much of a thought for those who have to get up at unearthly hours and slave over hot stoves to prepare the food we want to munch through.
In this play by Australian playwright, Steve Rodgers, we certainly get a glimpse behind the scenes in a takeaway located somewhere along an Australian highway.
But, though we get to understand some of the issues about running this kind of place, what's really on the menu here is the fractious relationship between two sisters - Elma and Nancy.
Emma Playfair's strong but aggrieved and rather acidic Elma is the older of the siblings, and she's been left to run the gastronomic endeavour while sister Nancy (Lily Newbury-Freeman) has been elsewhere for years doing her own thing - but now she's returned.
The pair grew up with their mum in charge of the business which basically offers fast food, with chips seemingly the signature dish.
It's the start of the working day when we first meet the sisterly cooks.
Elma has been at work since 5am, but it's much later when Nancy eventually manages to join her sister at the stove face.
Resentment bubbles away as Elma angrily reminds her sister about how things work in the kitchen.
Loud exchanges fill the steamy atmosphere for a considerable amount of the first course of the play, which begins to grate somewhat as we struggle to hear exactly what is being said.
Things quieten down later, particularly after the arrival of a third character, Hakan, a Turkish wanderer and photographer who is hired as a kitchen hand to help with plans to turn the takeaway into a comfort-food restaurant.
Surprisingly, there are relatively few examples of the unique brand of Australian humour in Steve Rodger's script.
One line, however, is particularly funny - when Elma warns Hakan against any sexual intentions he might have in mind regarding the sisters, saying she'll "cut it off and sew a button on it".
The Finborough's small, but highly flexible auditorium (joyously cool after the heat of this week's baking weather) is transformed here to provide a traverse or corridor stage where the audience sit on either side of the acting area.
That set-up brings us close to the action which also enables the cast to interact with the audience, sitting alongside us and handing out nibbles and the like.
Kitchen white goods - a freezer, cooker and fryer - are handily mounted on castors so the cast can push them around to change the scenes, and a pair of ladders add different levels as well as allowing the cast to temporarily fade from the action instead of disappearing off-stage.
Cressida brown's direction elicits strong and confident performances all round and well-devised movement directed by Ita O'Brien allows for some elements of the story to be effectively and sensitively handled.
In essence, the story really boils-down to the relationship between the two sisters.
But the focus gets rather lost with the introduction of Scott Karim's Hakan - unnecessary in my view, since there is sufficient to explore in the issues between the two women, and the essential dramatic flavour (and aftertaste) gets smothered with an overindulgence of ingredients.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Finborough Theatre
Our show listing for Food
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