Theatre 503, London – until 14 March 2020
Two mouldering animal carcasses dangle from butchers hooks at the back of the stage. Glistening fat and muscle clinging to white bone waits to be turned into an expensive meal, then served at the high-concept restaurant’s table for two in the foreground. But fuzzy, green patches around the edge of the larger, more exposed dead body exude an unsettling energy – this meat is old, with the mould indicating a deeper, more insidious rot that’s not so easy to cut out.
It’s a fitting metaphor for Max and Ronan (and a canny design choice by Rachel Stone). Having dated when they were teenagers, they’re now both successful adults. Ronan is a chef and restaurateur who wants to show off for his ex. However, Max is a writer and needs to speak to him about her memoir that is soon being published. Though they were young their relationship is inseparable from her story, and there is one night in particular that she informs him is being included in the book.
Yet, Ronan has no memory of that particular evening, and doesn’t understand some of the words Max is using. What exactly has she ‘survived’? He’s a good guy! And his colleague, the ferocious general manager Jo who ensures their dinner meeting at Ronan’s new restaurant goes smoothly, has worked with way worse men! As the former couple battle their way through numerous bottles of white wine and try not to make a scene, knotty memories and emotions are slowly unpicked and exposed, like skin being peeled back from a joint. Ronan’s perceptions of consent clash with Max’s experience, and their contrasting upbringings are also dredged up, along with privilege, memory and social class.
Writer Gillian Greer confidently addresses nuances and problems around sex and consent, and director Lucy Jane Atkinson ensures tensions consistently run high. India Mullen, Sean Fox and Elinor Lawless as Max, Ronan and Jo form a wary and combative triangle of shifting allegiances. Explosions are genuinely startling, with deliberately messy, stylised transitions providing a helpful reset button. The ending is hugely satisfying, but also asks questions about what we need in order to recover from trauma.
Though the relationships on show are spiky on the surface, there’s a stickiness to the issues that underpin the story. Whilst it’s easy to condemn individual men for behaving terribly, time and the patriarchy are more insidious, and Greer captures the complexity of these issues in a sparky and compelling story.