Review by Rosie Holmes
Meetings and food, the two things that summarise my workday – meetings (I often long for them to end) and food (I spend the day looking forward to it). It’s these two topics that Mustapha Matura’s darkly satirical play uses as its springboard in this production at the Orange Tree Theatre. Recipient of the James Menzies-Kitchen award, a prize for young directors, Kalungi Ssebandeke directs this play in its first major UK revival since 1982.
Meetings, on the surface, is about food. Hugh is a successful businessman, living in a big house with a pool, alongside his similarly successful businesswoman wife, Jean, who is launching a new cigarette’s advertising campaign. After buying a mango on the street Hugh becomes obsessed with the foods of his Trinidadian childhood, and even hires a cook to make him the food he craves; Saltfish, cassava bread, coo-coo and more. While his wife is happy enough to eat out at a new Italian place or order chicken and chips every night, it soon becomes clear that Hugh’s cravings are for more than just the food of his childhood, but for a feeling of belonging and self-discovery. What begins with an excitable man salivating over the foods becomes into a darker look at the cost of progress and globalisation.
Matura’s writing is witty and, rather remarkably, despite being written over 40 years ago, feels like it could have been written today, save for perhaps the landline phone the characters use. The piece is full of satirical humour which engages the audience in a comedic first half, only for this to pick up in the second half for a darker exploration into Trinidadian tradition versus Western globalisation. We see the more sinister side of modernisation and a longing for one’s connections with their own history and roots.
The food obsessed Hugh is played by Kevin Golding, in an energetic and physical performance, dancing across the small stage with pleasure as he tastes the food of his childhood. He demonstrates wonderful comedic timing delivering my favourite line of the night, as he speaks of his workday; “what am I doing listening to this boring stuff when I could be eating some nice food?” Yet he is also able to slowly become more serious and distressed as the piece progresses, becoming a much more complex character than the cheery, food obsessed man we see at the beginning. Martina Laird is Jean, witty and acerbic, keen to enjoy the benefits of globalisation and their wealthy lifestyle and bemused by her husband’s actions. She is also able to show with a certain subtlety her own inner conflict and some tenderness. Bethan Mary-James plays Elsa, with wonderful earnestness, and is almost otherworldly, a physical manifestation of the world in which Hugh longs to know more about and find connection with.
The set, designed by Olivia Jamieson, is simply a kitchen, functional for the most part, creating a sensory experience for the audience as we, too, smell the aromas of Hugh’s longed-for childhood foods. In the Orange Tree Theatre’s small, in-the-round space, an intimacy is created as we feel we are truly watching a couple’s morning coffee and after work martinis as they discuss their days. There are some nice touches, before Elsa’s arrival the kitchen is sterile, she exclaims that all the cookware is new and there’s no food in the house. By the second half a small vase of flowers and a tablecloth adorn the table, as the house becomes a little homelier, singing in the kitchen the smell of food filling the air.
Lighting design is by Ali Hunter and is most dramatic during scene changes, signifying actions that happen outside of the kitchen. Along with Jose Puello’s sound design we are pulled away from the safety of the home as drama is created. Drum beats sound and the kitchen full of mod-cons meets the old Trinidad and the pain of its colonial enslavement.
Witty and thought-provoking, Meetings is much more than a comedy, it uses the universal concept of food to explore the impacts of globalisation and demonstrates how food alone can connect us to or roots. Still just as impactful and relevant as it was 40 years ago, Meetings’ cast of three do a wonderful job of delivering Mustapha Matura’s intelligent and engaging writing.
Meeting plays at Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond until 11th November 2023, tickets as well as information about a live screening can be found here - Home - Orange Tree Theatre
Photos by Marc Brenner