Reviews Published 31 August 2021

Review: Hungry at Paines Plough

Emotional eating: Emily Davis writes on Chris Bush’s incisive new play, exploring the tangled relationship between food, class and community.

Emily Davis
Hungry by Chris Bush at Paines Plough Roundabout. Photo: Nobby Clark.

Hungry by Chris Bush at Paines Plough Roundabout. Photo: Nobby Clark.

tw: disordered eating

There’s a really popular relationship anecdote that is paraphrased 100 different ways but is usually something like

“I really love how they make me the best version of myself.”

And I’ve always thought that was a really beautiful thing? The idea is that you can be in a relationship that adds value to your life in ways that are not romantic, and it leaves you in a better place, having become a better person.

Chris Bush’s Hungry prods at, then takes a kitchen scalpel to, the whole question of what is ‘better’? Food, jobs, life, ways to spend your time?

And what if, it asks, someone comes into your life and tells you, in subtle and unsubtle terms, that actually your life is shit, and you should be unhappy, and you should change. But you weren’t really unhappy, actually, before they came along and told you?

This is how the relationship unfolds between Lori (Eleanor Sutton) and Bex (Leah St Luce). Lori is a head chef, full of ambition, determined to do the right thing, make the best food, be the best girlfriend she can be. She shows her love – and it is a play full of love – with awkwardness and babbling monologues, constantly almost-putting her foot in it before moving on to another well-intentioned monologue about dreams and ambitions that will never appear.

Bex is charismatic and funny, she is grounded and resourceful, diplomatic to a fault, I suspect out of tiredness from being in constant battle. She doesn’t always know exactly how to say what she means but she knows what she wants.

The dance of their initial relationship is a real treat to watch, with Posner’s direction making the mobile kitchen units not only markers of the space but communicators of emotion. They’re being pushed around the space with the same physicality as the actors, imbued with flirtation, awkwardness, anger.

Over the hour we spend with Bex and Lori, Hunger evolves into a more explicit commentary on the push and pulls of individualism versus community. It hinges like a see-saw on Bex’s mother’s funeral, who as we learn, binge-ate and hoarded stashes of food before her death.

There’s a new kind of moralism emerging in food that seeks to demonize the working class. The cheap ‘beige food’ which is non-organic, immorally produced, certainly not sourced from within 50 miles of the restaurant, but is cheap and comforting, and fills you up, is derided by the upper classes and is just another ‘bad choice’.

Because food is everything. It’s how you show affection, it’s how you comfort, it’s how you seek comfort and it increasingly states what kind of person you are.

At the funeral, the race and class aggressions that bubble under the surface elsewhere in the play – how Lori says to Bex ‘you’re special, you’re not like them!’, how Bex deals with doctor’s unsympathetic to her Mum’s health issues – boil over and becomes raw and angry.

Lori represents the flawed irrepressible system, from how she chastises Bex for eating chicken nuggets to how she talks about a community like a buzzword, a commodity of customers, rather than something you’re yoked to from birth.

She has a dream restaurant where her diaspora-fusion-soul-food offends no one, is a home for everyone, but it’s blind and flawed and hopeless.

The reality is, the only way to get yourself a bigger flat, a more high paying job, a more socially impressive hobby, is to leave that community behind. As Bex says, eventually, you want to get to a place where you don’t know any poor people anymore.

You’re improving for yourself rather than anyone else, the system leaves everyone else in the dust. And what’s the point in that? Let us eat our chicken nuggets and crush crisps onto the floor.

Chris Bush’s Hungry is part of Paines Plough’s Roundabout, touring the UK until 17 October.

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Emily Davis is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Hungry at Paines Plough Show Info


Produced by Paines Plough

Directed by Katie Posner

Written by Chris Bush

Cast includes Leah St Luce, Eleanor Sutton

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