Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

As we take our seats at Roundabout, the heavens are threatening a deluge and the sound of thunder rumbles and reverberates overhead. It provides a suitably dramatic backing track for Hungry by Chris Bush, making its world premiere at Summerhall. This sharply written two-hander examines the relationship between Lori (Eleanor Sutton), a chef from a relatively privileged background, and Bex (Melissa Lowe), a waitress from the local estate. Their first meeting is fractious to say the least but, by the second, Lori is already trying hard to put the new worker at ease and endearingly failing to understand her sly sense of humour.

But it isn’t long before sparks begin to fly – and the two of them become lovers.

The ensuing relationship is told non-chronologically and veers between awkward early encounters to full-on adversarial squabbles, the two actors literally slamming metal food trollies at each other as the conflict builds. It’s perhaps only natural for Lori to want to offer her partner an upgrade in life, to try to encourage her to appreciate the difference between a mousse – sorry, a mousseline – and a ganache, even positing the idea of them running their own ‘soul food’ restaurant, together, but she doesn’t fully understand the implications of what she’s doing, nor the way her interventions make Bex feel.

When Bex’s mother dies Lori tries to muscle in on the catering arrangements and matters inevitably come to a head.

This is a cleverly observed exploration of both class and race, brilliantly written and superbly acted by Sutton and Lowe, who make their characters entirely believable. Director Katie Posner keeps everything stripped back and simple – there’s no need for the distractions of actors miming the acts of ‘eating’ or ‘drinking,’ they are free to circle each other, interacting, exchanging pithy remarks and occasionally kicking off. It’s only in the play’s final scenes that any actual food appears and, when it does, this sudden move into hyper-realism – and the fact that we can actually smell it cooking – amplifies its seductive nature.

Hungry is a class act, so assured that, even amidst the host of treasures on offer at this year’s Roundabout, it dazzles like a precious gem. The standing ovation from the crowd is heartfelt and utterly well-deserved. If you’ve a taste for challenging drama, this is a show you mustn’t miss.

5 stars

Philip Caveney


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