FOOD is one of two appetising plays currently playing at the ambitious Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea (the other is Mr Gillie).
As its title implies, the backdrop to the play is food, (not quite) glorious food – cooked in a takeaway situated along an Australian highway, beside a river and north of a big country town. But it is no more than an appetiser because the crux of the play centres on the difficult relationship between sisters Elma (Emma Playfair) and Nancy (Lily Newbury-Freeman).
Separated by two years, the sisters are polar opposites. Elma, the eldest, is all anger and resentment – the sibling who stayed at home and ran the takeaway while Mum went from one relationship to another.
In contrast, Nancy gives off more pheromones than can be found in a Sydney brothel and attracts men without trying. Sadly, some abused her when she was a mere teenager (giving rise to a comment that she was the one with ‘two arms and three holes’). Indeed, at age 17, her mother’s boyfriend Craig locked her in the bathroom – ‘He kissed me and I kissed him’. Consensual, yes, but it was a relationship that triggered her moving away, leaving Elma to soldier on and hold the proverbial takeaway fort.
In the present, Nancy has returned home. The relationship between the siblings is fraught and as the play unfolds we learn why it is so powderkeg- as we are taken back to key defining moments in their childhood and teenage years.
Into the frying pan is tossed Hakan (Scott Karim), a delightful (and good-looking) Turk who turns up on their doorstep and persuades Elma (through Nancy) that he can help the two transform their takeaway into a restaurant serving such delights as corned beef, lamb shanks and roasted scallops.
Hakan is a charmer who proclaims to be ‘above average’ as both a kitchen hand and photographer. He is also quite happy talking about his love life and the eleven lovers he has enjoyed on his travels (two together in one night and Anthea who took to weeing on his chest).
Predictably, Hakan falls for Nancy but, seemingly out of guilt for the hardship Elma has endured, Nancy encourages him to look towards her older sister for conquest number twelve.
It all makes for 90 minutes of good fare although the ending is a little unsatisfactory. Newbury-Freeman is splendid as the sexy, sultry and somewhat foul-mouthed Nancy while Playfair plays the downtrodden older sister manfully (if you know what I mean) and comes out with some splendid lines. Especially when she accuses Hakan of looking at Nancy as if she were a ‘steak’. I also love her bluntness. ‘I want to kiss you,’ urges Hakan. ‘Fuck off’, she replies.
But it is Karim who steals the show with his devilish good looks, charm and self-deprecation. He endears himself to the audience even more by talking to them directly, handing out mints (breath fresheners) and bread (as do Elma and Nancy). ‘I like to make each meal a gift’, he proclaims. You cannot help but fall in love with him.
The play, written by Aussie Steve Rodgers, is expertly directed by Cressida Brown while the staging is imaginative. Ladders are used for the actors to escape up when they do not form part of the dialogue. A fridge, cooker and deep fat-fryer are wheeled across the stage – on occasion cleverly used to frame certain scenes (Nancy’s encounter with five lustful men).
The Finborough rarely disappoints – and so is the case with Food. Not worthy of a Michelin star but a good night out nonetheless.
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Elma: Emma Playfair
Nancy: Lily Newbury-Freeman
Hakan: Scott Karim
Playwright: Steve Rodgers
Director: Cressida Brown
Designer: Hannah Wolfe