I can’t help but feel like Hungry works better as a solo play. Alongside the fact that the Paines Plough and 45 North co-production is made for the Edinburgh Fringe – which tends to favour the one-person shows, its exploration of the cultural appropriation of food and queer relationships feels incredibly personal. It would also go some way to accelerate a stagnant first half of the 70-minute play.
Yes, it’s arguable that a lot of this is needed to establish the depth of restaurant workers Bex (Melissa Lowe) and Lori‘s (Eleanor Sutton) romance, and the subtle micro-aggressions scattered across the script which are dismantled in staggering fashion in its final scenes. There’s troubling comments about chicken, pressure for Bex to eat oysters and Lori’s plans for a food business which takes Black cuisine and attempts to blend it all together with other cultures. It’s the latter which generates most of the drama and conflict of Hungry. They clash around two metal kitchen tables, and the arguments come in later than they probably should. It’s like it’s crammed into the dessert when some of it should really be in the main course, to use an apt simile.
And in addition to being late with the drama, it’s delayed in making clear just who is the protagonist in what can first be misinterpreted as a two-hander. Lori is assured but still awkward and abrasive in her overthinking in a way which overshadows Bex. Attention soon shifts to her when we learn of her grief, an emotion which could have been made all the more powerful if her role as the central character was emphasised some more – solo play or otherwise. We’d greater understand Bex’s loss, but also the sheer psychological impact which comes with cultural appropriation and gentrification.
One of the play’s most interesting discussions, alongside one around true ‘growth’ in a relationship, pertains to cultural appropriation under the guise of cultural cohesion – a misplaced desire to bring people together which only erases diversity with uniformity. Tired of the micro-aggressions, the pressure cooker relationship soon heats up, and Lori’s idea sparks condemnation from Bex in a striking and explosive monologue – albeit one which is never actually said out loud.
Such a conclusion may well frustrate haters of ‘and it was all a dream’ and all its variants, but it taps into the toxicity of cultural appropriation such that it suffocates the individual or community effected. It creates a feeling of exhaustion and exasperation which robs Bex of the energy to call it out. It’s justifiable, but again, a shift in perspective could have further unpacked these emotions and thought processes in her mind.
There’s a conversation around food whereby the difference between contentment and being full is underscored. To use another fitting analogy, Hungry is satisfying, but I could well have done with a bit more.
Hungry is now playing at the Soho Theatre until 30 July.
It will then have a run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of Paines Plough’s Roundabout programme from 3 to 28 August.
A second relaxed performance takes place on 27 July and all performances have captioning available through tablets.
Production Images: The Other Richard.