With a handful of love and a pinch of tragedy, Shireen Mula’s delicate morsel of a play riffs on the language of the recipe book, crafting startling poetry out of the familiar actions whisking and sieving, measuring and pouring. The baking of a cake becomes a fragile emblem of hope, a metaphor and a leap of faith. The perfect but elusive recipe Mula’s play reaches for, fingers yearningly outstretched, is that for happiness and love, for the sweet miracle cure that might bring two people back together.
Those two people are Emily and Jamie, a once giddily happy couple now barely speaking to one another. On stage in Rachel Parish’s production, both are realised through the lone figure of Jennifer Jackson, whose solitary presence carries a surprising visual force; there is something a little heartbreaking about just the one body on stage, always a single, isolated half of a pair. The memories of their relationship are also broken, shattered apart and gathered together again. This is storytelling as an act of recovery, frantic scrabbling through discarded moments for some semblance of meaning or hope. The audience too are asked to participate in this recovery, closing fingers around fragments in order to piece together the exploded narrative.
Through jumbled recollections, we are taken through all the familiar milestones and hurdles of a relationship: the head-over-heels honeymoon phase, the joy of making a home together, the attempt to start a family. Structured as a stream of consciousness, jumping and repeating, Mula’s script often takes on the quality of a poem or musical score, matched by the distinct, rapidly changing rhythm of this production. Jackson, a constantly captivating presence, flits from stillness to frantic movement, physically embodying the shifting emotional texture. The text throws out clues and then immediately obscures them, revealing its narrative piece by piece.
The uncluttered stage forms a largely blank canvas for Rachel Parish’s production, the only props a suitably homely wooden table and chair. This minimal staging also drags attention repeatedly back to the closed door to the side of the stage, a stubborn physical barrier between Emily and Jamie, between the past and present of their time together. There is a homemade feel to the whole, from the basic sound effects Jackson generates with her own body and the scant props, to the bare, open mode of delivery, evoking a simple intimacy.
Due to such simplicity, the piece feels at times vulnerably slight, as fragile as its damaged protagonists, yet this brittle delicacy is somehow fitting. It attains the fleeting quality of memory: slender, ephemeral and resistant to being snatched at. Like Emily and Jamie’s strained relationship, Mula’s play is small and precarious, but at the same time oddly beautiful.