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Powerful drama about a young woman’s reckoning with a toxic past relationship
Gillian Greer’s ‘Meat’ opens in what is immediately recognisable as a concept restaurant. A minimalist light, hanging from exposed rafters, illuminates an unvarnished pine table, set with wine glasses and rustic bread. A young woman and a young man face each other across it, their bodies prickling with tension. Behind them hang an enormous, man-sized slab of meat and a partially dismembered pig.
It is a mark of how superbly structured and performed ‘Meat’ is that these bloodied carcasses manage to fade quietly into the background. In the foreground, blogger-turned-author Max (India Mullen) confronts laddish ex-boyfriend-turned-chef Ronan (Sean Fox) about the time he raped her – though this word is only used once. Over the course of a confused, emotional dinner at Ronan’s newly opened restaurant, the former couple pick their relationship, and that fateful night, apart, offering conflicting opinions on what happened and where culpability lies. Their dinner is overseen by Ronan’s co-restaurateur Jo (Elinor Lawless), who begins by providing the comic relief from the nail-bitingly tense meal before becoming embroiled in the drama.
Greer’s subtle, acutely observed script allows space for facetiousness, sympathy and humour, all dogged by a broken, greying sadness. In one remarkable flashback scene, Ronan flirts with Jo in a way that, in a rom-com, would be boisterously charming, and in a drama would be entitled and harassing – it all depends on how it’s interpreted. He uses the same line (‘We’re pioneers, hungry and in love!’) on both Jo and Max, seemingly unaware that he is feeding them a line. Jo and Ronan press food and wine on the reluctant Max, painfully mirroring the pressure exerted on young women to say ‘yes’ when they mean ‘no’ – and indeed, Max appears to acquiesce to make it easier.
Between scenes, Fox and Mullen smear foie gras across the walls and toss pasta on the floor, getting messier as the meal continues into the night. Max, in a stunning performance from Mullen, visibly cracks and rebuilds herself as she attempts to see the evening through. ‘Meat’ is a genuinely thought-provoking and gripping depiction of a reckoning with trauma.