Thursday, 17 September 2015

Review: Mouthful at Trafalgar Studios 2

Trafalgar Studios 2
Reviewed on Wednesday 16th September 2015

Mouthful, a series of six short plays focusing on the global food crisis, is an uncomfortable watch. 

As we witnessed Tunisian parents struggle desperately for bread, and idealistic mothers face prison sentences for serving mashed potatoes, each careless sip from my bottled water felt increasingly abhorrent, each claggy, sugary recollection of my interval chocolate bar, became increasingly shameful. It's a stark and often didactic soapbox of an evening, as facts and graphics flash before our eyes, revealing the extent of our wasteful consumption, and the underlying truth of our lack of sustainability. Is it often harrowing? Certainly. Is it always dramatically satisfying? Unfortunately not.

The sextet of plays featured in Mouthful may be different in form and content, but the underlying theme is consistent: Humanity is going down a dark path of self-destructive consumption, and it may not be too long before we are lost entirely. There are musings on self-sufficient farming, a planet-wide drought, the dwindling of the cocoa bean and even an amusing parody of a musical number about using insects as an alternative protein source.

For this, gleeful mention must go to costume designer Charlotte Espiner, who goes to town in transforming the cast into a leather clad cricket kick-line, antennas and all. It's an entertaining and welcome tonal diversion, as most of the plays invariably fall on the bleak side. In general, there is a heavy handedness to a lot of the writing which does not allow the audience to fully invest in the shorts as theatrical pieces. The actors struggle to find the characters beneath the rhetoric, only occasionally finding enough depth to truly engage dramatically within the brief duration of each play. 

The true exception to this is in Inua Ellams Turned which ends the evening. Ellams' play is a short of real beauty, managing to encapsulate the tension of the overall theme, whilst also finding the humanity and emotion that the other shorts seemed to lack. Harry Lister Smith does fantastic work as the charismatic English graduate Sebastian with a penchant for John Lennon, whilst Doña Croll wrings beautiful understated emotion out of her grieving wife, Halima. There is also compelling work in Neil LaBute's 16 Pounds, a terrifying imagining of a world ravaged when the water supply runs dry. In arguably the darkest of the shorts, Alisha Bailey's ruthlessly jaded bureaucrat toys with a beaten man (Robert Hands, powerful as a dehydrated wreck, stripped of all but his tattered shirt) forced to do unspeakable things for 2 gallons of water in an arid world. 

One cannot question the immediacy or power of Mouthful's subject matter. It is a hugely pressing issue, and the collection of plays unearths disquieting questions about the very nature of our current agricultural society. Unfortunately, where the experience stumbles is in the overall quality of the writing, often not successfully separating the expositional lecturing from the more dramatic elements. However, once the talented cast get to play with the most powerful material, Mouthful becomes riveting and relevant. Treasure your next buttered mashed potato. You never know, it might be your last...

Reviewed by Will Clarkson

Mouthful runs at Trafalgar Studios 2 until 3rd October 2015. 
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Richard Davenport

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