FringeReview UK 2023
Mustapha Matura draws in and telescopes devastating consequences – perhaps telegraphs years of damage into a few weeks for dramatic licence. That doesn’t lessen his impact. The point is western exploitation kills, in many guises.
This is a first-rate revival. Voice and accent coach Aundrea Fudge has worked hard so that not only do Kevin Golding and Martina Laird, both outstanding, speak in different registers to their new cook, but to each other. Bethan Mary-James, equally outstanding, is able to create coloratura arias of speech, and her brief rhapsodies of shared remembrances with Golding are a soaring as the kites of long-dead uncles they invoke. A must-see.
Director Kalungi Ssebandeke, Designer Olivia Jamieson, Lighting Designer Ali Hunter, Sound Designer Joe Puello, Costume Supervisor Naomi Wright, Movement Director Diane Alison-Mitchell,
Voice and Accent Coach Aundrea Fudge, Hair & Wigs Supervisor Shanay Dupuis, Assistant Director Namoo Chae Lee, Cultural Consultant Jim Findlay, Assist Casting Co-ordinator Sarah Murray
Production Manager and Technical Director Stuart Burgess, CSM Jenny Skivens, Deputy Stage Manager Rachel Harris, Rehearsal ASM Rhea Jacques, Show ASM Katy Ross,
Production Photography Rebecca Need-Menear, Rehearsal & Production Photography Marc Brenner.
Till November 11th
“You leave a meeting to go an eat mango?” After his Mas in 2015, the work of Trinidad-born Mustapha Matura (1939-2019) returns to the Orange Tree Theatre, with his 1981 Meetings directed by Kalungi Ssebandeke. It’s the first revival of this major work this century, and reaffirms Matura’s mastery, light touch and devastating conclusions.
Jean (Martina Laird) cannot believe her sophisticated university-educated husband Hugh (Kevin N Golding) has sought a mango, sold by an older woman, Mari. But Hugh longs for old style food, in between convening and attending meetings for laying miles of pipelines; whilst his even more business-driven wife dresses in expensive clothes, cites their beautiful home (we’re always in the kitchen) with swimming pool; and smokes. Her company Luna purveys a virulent cigarette and Jean knows how to target a new clientele. No wonder she coughs.
But Hugh, with an eloquent paean to old-style cooking, hankers, as Jean says, like a boy. Later on she cites St Paul “When I was a child” to Hugh’s further regressive desires to help fishermen drag in their nets. It’s singular enough for her to hire Mari’s granddaughter Elsa (Bethan Mary-James) who with a mix of modest disavowal and joyful detachment avoids being cast as the younger siren and instead cooks up delicious meals.
Not that it helps when Elsa appears one night just dressed in her nightie. Quite a proportion of her cooking pointedly ends up in the bin: either partially-eaten or wholly so. The point of consumerist waste is painfully made.
This is after Elsa skilfully navigates the culinary desires and moods of the people she’s live-in cook for. Jean pointedly wants nothing but takeaways or, later on, French meals – the echt-cooking of the coloniser and not the pale imitation,as Hugh points out. Hugh, after initial ecstasy drifts away from everyone and only Elsa knows where he’s going, even as she must regret his uneaten meals.
Matura’s critique of a culturally appropriated couple (portrayed as older here than in some earlier productions, with no talk of children) laps around. The original play had (I think) more references to the outside world, but here, trimmed to something like two hours 15 with interval, that essential world outside is semaphored.
Olivia Jamieson’s working kitchen set is so detailed with working stove and basin, that you wholly forget the space you’re in: seeing the action to an extent through a stove or sink, depending where you sit. A strong infusion of garlic wafts across – it helps the interval features real patties probably for one night only.
Jean tries every blandishment to bring Hugh back to what he should want for his birthday: speedboat, video-recorder. As Jean’s compromises with the appalling tobacco company become clearer (Hugh’s pipelines equally murky, aren’t explored in the same way) the couple diverge: Hugh becomes obsessed and attends a Shanko, or ritual meeting. Elsa, who realises, tells him he must face up to things. But there’s an occurrence that sends everyone reeling.
Ali Hunter’s lighting is at its most striking at the end of each act, and in both it’s Laird caught at a pivotal moment of self-forgetting or sudden realisation. Joe Puello’s sound affirms in the same way, masking with popular music the way it’s been brought to Trinidad. Later there’s steel bands and different drums altogether. Matura draws in and telescopes devastating consequences – perhaps telegraphs years of damage into a few weeks for dramatic licence. That doesn’t lessen his impact. The point is western exploitation kills, in many guises.
This is a first-rate revival. Voice and accent coach Aundrea Fudge has worked hard so that not only do Golding and Laird, both outstanding, speak in different registers to their new cook, but to each other, recalling earlier times they suddenly riff in an exuberant inflection wholly away from their normal speech-patterns. It’s undeniably a little hard to follow one or two words, but that’s it: it’s a pointedly clear delivery of the inflected past the couple once shared.
Whereas Golding’s yearning ultimately for a wife who might stay and cook (much gender politics etched in the first few minutes) his character’s patrician bearing finds itself assailed with questions on all sides. Laird’s Jean is more inquisitorial, sometimes more exuberant. Both undergo transformations, and both convey a basso of grief, despair or condemnation. Mary-James, equally outstanding, is able to create coloratura arias of speech, and her brief rhapsodies of shared remembrances with Golding are a soaring as the kites of long-dead uncles they invoke. A must-see.