Meat, by Matt HarrisMonday, 6 December, 2010
‘Meat’ is a wonderfully courageous and well crafted exploration of prejudice and persecution, inspired by Tennessee Williams’ short story ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’. Paralleling the discomfort of homophobia with that of racism, predominately in the paranoia of an overly PC office, Harris’ story successfully pins down the hypocrisy and harm society exerts in its irrational abhorrence of certain facets of human nature. This play raises pertinent questions with style and intrigue, depicting the continued plight of the discriminated in an eloquent and entertaining way; a true example of what theatre should be.
The piece centres on the character of Ashley Hicks, following him through his past and present, as a Louisianan teenager growing in the age of civil rights disputes and a lowly clerk in the already mentioned modern office environment. His cohort in this veritable liberties wasteland is Lloyd, a black man who is forbidden from playing with this little white boy in the backyard, but proudly allowed to park himself in Ashley’s overly principled workplace. These two characters battle through a world that forces them to hate each other, and eventually themselves, as they realise they live in the same skin; that of the abjured.
There is an almost undecipherable line between fantasy and reality in the piece, which smoothly allows for the link between Williams’ original story and Harris’ retelling. The language is wonderfully varied, at times beautifully poetic, at others relentlessly coarse, weaving in narration, colloquial lingo and apt office jargon. The writing, and its themes, is seamless, with no gratuitous word or idea gracing the page or stage. The setting for this sordid story mainly scuttles between the office, a cinema and a massage parlour. This seemed to shadow the trinity of mind, body and spirit as did Harris’ choice of events within.
The performances were equally strong, with each actor fully engaging with their role in an exhaustive and impressive way. They successfully drew out the humour from each exchange (of which there is much) and committed to the intensity of the story they had found themselves in. The direction was fluid and utilised the space in a sophisticated way which never distracted from, and always served, the most important part of the experience – the words, and what they had to say.
This sort of play truly is, to me, the reason theatre exists. It was a demonstration of guts, originality and pure critical thinking, presented by a collective of talented individuals who had faith in the work. Artaud once said ‘The purpose of theatre is not to define thought but to provoke it’, a criteria ‘Meat’ meets with fervour. Finally, something to get our teeth into.
Venue: Lion & Unicorn Theatre, Kentish Town.
Performers: Virginia Byron, Nathan Clough, Nicholas Clarke, Marlon G Day, Suzanne Marie, Carola Stewart, Ben Walton.
Writer – Matt Harris; Director – Vernon Douglas: Lighting – Viktor Palfi; Sound – Valentin Hoffman; Design – Moi Tran; Stage management – Julia Blom.
(c) Tracy Keeling 2010