What in life is more enjoyable than spreading the palms of your hand wide, cupping your fingers around imaginary food, pulling each hand alternately to your mouth and shouting “om nom nom nom nom”? If reading that sentence has made you mimic those actions, your face perhaps unfolding into a wide, childish smirk as you did so, then you are likely also to enjoy the return of Mamoru Iriguchi’s Eaten, a performance piece for over 5s, in which a lion – Lionel McLion – plays with his food.
Like Iriguchi’s work for adults, Eaten creates a boxes-within-boxes set of motifs, which in this performance sometimes literally unpack from each other’s stomachs. In doing so, Iriguchi (with his director Eilidh MacAskill and co-performer Suzi Cunningham) playfully pulls at the zips and seams of the performance and staging itself. We get bodies within bodies, eaten, spat out, talking from within one another’s heads, cutting themselves out of stomachs, pulled from behind teeth, excreted as poo, retained in the gut, waltzed with and befriended.
One early conceit, that is often returned to, is Iriguchi wearing the lion costume, voicing both “Mamoru”, in some kind of perpetual digestion limbo, and Lionel himself, conversing with his most recent meal. When the two dance, Lionel “can’t tell if I am leading you or you are leading me”. The children laugh. Two characters, one costume, Iriguchi’s own body lifting and inhabiting both at once. The children understand the duality of this and giggle when they hear that duality collapse in Lionel’s line. The young audience is similarly tickled when Mamoru starts to ponder the reason he feels as though he is melting. Two steps ahead of the character, of course, the audience’s laughter becomes rather ‘knowing’.
Such conceptual dalliance is not limited to Eaten’s metatheatrical staging. The show tackles its subject matter with similar abstraction. Primarily, the piece is about our relationship with food: its contrary status as something that both removes and generates life. We are introduced to the idea of the food chain: of cows that eat daisies being made of daisies; of lions that eat cows being made of daisies and cows. The conversion of one body to another is shown as a form of bodily conservation, of biological imperative. And yet, this is all held beside the inescapable reality of some food itself being alive and sentient. Eaten does not ignore this, but instead tackles it snout-first. By allowing everything that is eaten to continue to speak, Eaten never lets this particular duality resolve – we love animals and eat animals, we eat them and love them: both continue and co-exist, nestled next to the other.
Eaten – the title after all exists only in the past perfect – also concerns itself with poo. When Iriguchi emerges, clad all in brown from Lionel’s bottom, the children are (rightly) delighted. There’s a moment perhaps even of tension when this new persona – Dr Poo – invites questions from the children and adults in the room. Initially reluctant, when they realise that they have indeed got permission to ask what they want about poo, they do so with abandon. Poo’s timeliness, shape and smell are all gamely inquired upon; Iriguchi’s answers always euridite and playful. Were I a child in that room, I would have been fascinated. Heck, as an adult I was too.
Eaten, then, is certainly an educational play. But is it also didactic? Ultimately, I don’t think so. It could be read as a validation of meat eating and the natural structure of a food chain that includes multiple animals. At least this is what characters in the play sometimes espouse. But it refuses to rest on this assumption. All sorts of images in the play complicate things – shuffles them rather than settles them. It shuffles together the value we place on animals as loved ones and as meat; shuffles together cat and lion, man and beast, science and storytelling. And it shuffles apart performer and costume, inside and outside, life and death, lets things hang loosely and untethered in the audience’s minds.
Like much of Iriguchi’s work, however, this play for children somehow does all that whilst still being resolutely, insatiably silly. It is charming and big and full of fart jokes and jumping around. And, without contradiction, it is abstract, conceptual and sometimes metatheatrical in the extreme. In summary: om nom nom nom nom.
Eaten is on until 19 August 2018 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Click here for more details.