What bread do you buy? This is important – you are never to eat s*** bread again”. And so begins the story of an unexpected relationship between Lori (Eleanor Sutton), restaurant chef and unwitting success story of Thatcher’s individualist politics, and proudly working-class waitress Bex (Melissa Lowe).
In this Paines Plough and 45 North Production, directed by Katie Posner, food is everything – comforting, delicious, complicated, but above all, political. Beneath the funny, awkward and quick-witted dialogue playing on middle-class food lingo – matcha lattes, homemade yoghurt and the evils of shop-bought bread – lies a deeper, serious story about class.
As Lori and Bex each explore what food means to them, the cracks in their relationship begin to appear. While Lori uses food as a powerful tool with which to elevate her social and professional status, Bex seeks solace in the pot noodles and chicken nuggets that brought her late mother joy and evoke fond childhood memories.
Sutton convincingly portrays Lori’s obsession with Bex; through her heartfelt, but occasionally rambling, monologues we see both her caring nature but also an altogether more sinister trait – control. Her desire to “better” Bex’s life by changing her diet and eating habits continues despite protests and assertions from Bex that she’s “happy as I am”.
Bex’s diet of “beige food”, continuously berated by Lori – advocate of organic, sustainable and healthier options – is not just a product of poor choices. Instead, it is symbolic of her social class; poor education and low wages make this lifestyle unattainable, something Lori is unable to comprehend. Her saviour complex drives her need to change the life Bex is more content with than Lori can grasp, exposing simmering class and racial prejudices.
In her final monologue, Lowe delivers a stellar performance as she attempts to recover her watered-down identity, stolen and silenced by Lori’s well-intentioned but ultimately overbearing affection. Powerful and emotive, it perfectly captures the suppression of the working class.
The set, designed by Lydia Denno, is simple, yet highly effective. Just two movable kitchen counters, are cleverly used to create a physical barrier between the characters, even in their most intimate moments, and to effortlessly transition between past and present.
Overall, this multilayered tale of bittersweet love and class entrenchment harnesses the powerful currency of food to both unite and divide in equal measure. Bush successfully challenges predefined notions and offers food for thought as the audience are left questioning – what does “better” really mean?
Soho Theatre, to July 30; sohotheatre.com