Fresh new writing in Battersea
MEAT by Gillian Greer is a new play set in modern-day Dublin that manages to be both thought-provoking and entertaining. It asks the audience to consider themes like consent, growing away from your roots and addressing the past when we all remember it very differently. In the skilled hands of director Lucy Jane Atkinson and a talented cast, this three-hander comes to life in the intimate setting of Theatre503’s 63-seater auditorium.
India Mullen skilfully plays central character Max as a complex mixture of self-centred, vulnerable, sometimes slightly unlikeable but also someone you’d like to know more about. She’s made a great success writing a self-revelatory blog about her relationship with her recently dead alcoholic mother among other things. This has spawned a lucrative book deal to write a misery memoir. However, Max’s editor doesn’t think there’s quite enough misery in it and asks her to dig deeper for more. Her mind casts back to a drunken night in her late teens which forms the basis for the play’s action.
- © Alex Brenner
Sean Fox is convincing too as laddish chef Ronan desperate to impress ex-girlfriend Max with how far he’s come in the world. Meanwhile, he grapples with trying to defend himself against an accusation of a sexual assault that he claims not to remember.
Wittily played by Elinor Lawless is dictatorial restaurant manager Jo, the play’s third wheel. She starts out as comic relief, a caricature demanding guests fall in line with the controlling carnivorous ethos of the restaurant. This gradually gives way to something softer as more of Jo is revealed. It becomes clear that the dominatrix act is a necessary defence in the male-dominated restaurant world.
- © Alex Brenner
Lighting, sound and props all add to the drama and are cleverly used to say what can’t simply be expressed in words.
The backdrop for MEAT is a pretentious and hip Dublin restaurant where two huge bloody carcasses hang provocatively on the back wall. Food is in some ways the fourth character in the play. It is used to highlight the differences between people and most dramatically to create a great deal of physical mess on stage to reflect how messy life and emotions can be. Expect the smearing of walls, spilling of wine and even regurgitation of food as things spiral out of control.
The soundscape created by sound designer Annie May Fletcher deserves a special mention. The chatter and clatter, the clinking of cutlery and glass remind us that Max and Ronan’s encounter is taking place in a busy restaurant. But as their conversations intensify so the background noise fades to silence. Heartbeats and discordant music provide the score in the gaps between scenes.
- © Alex Brenner
There is a nice circularity in the play as the repercussions of a messy drunken evening seven years ago are played out in the present in a fresh messy drunken evening. While dealing with difficult themes, this is a play that explores the grey areas and nuances and is also full of humour.
The intense 70 minutes fly by and leave you with lots to think about. It is unlikely that two people will emerge from MEAT without drawing their own conclusions about what they’ve just seen. The large, comfortable Latchmere Pub downstairs makes for the perfect spot to dissect the action over a drink. This is a play that is well worth making the trip to Battersea to see.
MEAT is running until 14 March 2020
503 Battersea Park Road
London SW11 3BW