A dark story of two sisters in small-town Australia
Food means reassurance but also anxiety and isolation in this UK premiere of Australian playwright Steve Rodgers’s tale of two sisters.
When Nancy reappears after years of absence, she and older sibling Elma struggle with their relationship and the no-frills takeaway shop they’ve inherited from their neglectful mother.
Flicking between the present day and the sisters’ upbringing, Rodgers pieces together a dark portrait of small-town Australia, one where sexual or emotional abuse was Nancy’s and Elma’s daily diet as teenagers. Over 90 minutes, the play successfully shades in the complicated swirl of trauma, resentment and guilt that has driven a wedge between them.
Director Cressida Brown’s production slips into the occasional overly stylised sequence, but she uses the tiny Finborough space well. Nancy and Elma are constantly brought into collision as a freezer, cooker and deep-fat fryer are moved into different positions around the stage. The effect is both fluid and appropriately awkward for characters forced into proximity.
Emma Playfair imbues Elma with a painful sense of discomfort in her own skin, as, in semi-narrated scenes, she reveals how food has been her emotional crutch and means of control in an overlooked life. Lily Newbury-Freeman has a trickier role as Nancy, kept more distant by the play in spite of the horrific things she has experienced. But she says a lot with a broken smile.
Ultimately, though, there’s a sense of disjointedness to ‘Food’. Winningly mixing bravado with nervousness, Scott Karim is scene-stealing as Hakan, a Turkish traveller who ends up working at the takeaway. But his lightweight character swallows up a disproportionate amount of the play, at times relegating the sisters to dour bit players in their own story.