Good theatre often provides food for thought in the form of witty post-show banter or perhaps a few lines to quote later on in clever context. Few shows, outside the dinner theatre of your childhood, actually provide dinner. However, with Makeshift Broadcast’s production of ‘Putting Words in My Mouth,’ we find an act that not only fills our bellies, but gives us something else to (metaphorically) chew on later.
Performing at Divadlo Na Prádle – Kavárna, we are invited to sit at tables carefully set with bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and olives for the enjoyment of the audience. Napkins are clever linens printed with what looks like a scrumptious recipe for parsnip risotto. Sorry, you can’t take the napkins home with you. Not only does this serve as refreshment for those who might have skipped dinner for a show, but it adds to the surprisingly intimate atmosphere of the show. Warm lights and gentle country guitar music, courtesy of Dave Gillies and Matt Regan, add to the farmhouse setting.
Starring the supremely talented trio of Ciara Clifford as Alice, Amy Conway as Fiona, and Sam Gregson as Tim, we are taken to a thriving organics farm in Perthshire and an urban kitchen in Edinburgh, owned by the more pragmatic of the three, social worker Alice. Our proximity to their monthly dinners feels almost voyeuristic, as if we, the audience, were eavesdropping on the most private moments of long-time friends, and the conflicts and head-butting later on in the show. Yet it is through such closeness that we come to understand the urgency of each character’s conviction and, through perfectly paced monologues, why they think and act they way they do.
The drama unfolds with Tim’s new job with the European Union traveling all around Germany on behalf of the agricultural industry, a job that, while promising, clashes with his duty on the family farm and the needs of an unexpectedly pregnant Fiona.
The core of the play lies not only with the relationship Alice, Fiona, and Tim have with each other, but their relationship with food and the earth it grows in. Fiona and Tim, a couple for seven years, are enthusiastic champions of organic, locally grown food, selling (overpriced) all-natural products via Tim’s glossy website. Alice, while savouring the home made fare of Fiona and Tim, indulges in ready meals at her office and, as seen throughout the show, many glasses of wine.
Throughout the play we see them debate and argue over the increasing danger of GM crops, overpopulation, and the need for accessible access to safe, fresh, high quality foods. When the expectant Fiona announces her plan to go through her pregnancy a vegan, the dialogue turns contentious, even hostile, as the trio argue over the reality of vital nutrition and the ideal of healthy, cruelty free eating. The demands on Tim and a potential massive carbon footprint highlight the contradiction between the way we want to live and the way we need to.
In Alice, we see a woman who deals with the poor and needy on a regular basis, and refuses to let the privilege of Tim and Fiona keep her from expressing the realities of thousands. In a world where middle-class faddishness dictates millions of diets, Alice reminds them in the most honest and unflinching way that they live in a bubble and public aid doesn’t stretch to luxury cheese, fruit spreads, and organic olive oil.
In an age of increasing obesity, strained resource, and the unfettered rise of global consumer culture, this is anything but a production to watch passively. I have no doubt many in the audience, myself included, were thinking of their own consumption, and the way we saw the food we ate, the things we drank. Perhaps the most painful aspect of this outstanding production is the realization that Fiona and Tim would sacrifice anything to achieve their own respective utopias, even each other.
The ending is not a happy one, though it is the most realistic. Like the dialogue and performances of its cast, this adds to its strength. So, come on over, come hungry, I assure you you’ll walk away satisfied.
Rachael Collins, Prague Film & Theater Center