To mark their 10th anniversary year, Metta Theatre present a thought-provoking series of plays about the global food crisis. Projections of statistics about the amount of water we drink and food we over consume for the backdrop to the sextet of plays which invite the audience to pause and think.
Mouthful is a collaboration between six leading playwrights, six leading scientists, including Professor Tim Benton the UK’s Global Food Security Champion – and the audience. It’s an admirably ambitious idea even if, in the end, the educational intention of the project is inescapable and at times overrides the production’s potential to move and entertain. The playwrights – Bola Agbaje, Lydia Adetunji, Clare Bayley, Inua Ellams, Neil LaBute, and Pedro Miguel Rozo – employ different tones and approaches, some more successful than others, but the piece as a whole feels overly didactic in tone and there’s not really enough room within each individual play for the cast to make their mark. The main exception to this is Robert Hands, whose performances are the most multi-layered. He’s particularly convincing in Pedro Miguel Rozo’s Organica, and in Neil LaBute’s dystopian 16 Pounds, in which he plays a desperate man driven to extremes in order to survive. He even does good work as a cabaret insect in director Poppy Burton-Morgan’s musical number advocating insects as an alternative food source, Try Me. (There were even crickets available to sample at the interval)
The production opens with the eye-opening statistic that by the year 2050 the world will have to produce 50% more food in order to feed a population of 9 billion. So its perhaps not much of surprise that two of the plays set themselves in possible futures. LaBute’s typically blunt play is set in a dystopian future where water is incredibly scarce but it makes its case all too quickly and the ten minute running time could easily have been condensed to five, intensifying it. Very few of the six short plays really work as stand-alone pieces and it’s hard to invest in the worlds they present or care about the characters. Inua Ellams’ Turned is the exception, letting its characters breathe, sketching in convincing relationships for them, and not foregrounding the themes and issues at the expense of the drama.
William Reynolds’ design is striking, the floor of the studio thick with earth. But too often the plays feel shackled by their desire to educate and this lessens their impact. It’s like being force-fed, facts, statistics. A lot of the information is interesting and these are subjects that need to be discussed but Metta Theatre’s project, while well intentioned, gets bogged down in the desire to transmit information, to educate its audience. Its message is important one, a vital one, and these are issues we probably don’t think about enough, but the format works against it.