Food for thought in Freo Theatre Company’s second season

23 August 2021

There’s more than meat being seared in Fremantle Theatre Company’s latest production, writes David Zampatti.

Meat, Fremantle Theatre Company ·
Victoria Hall, 22 September ·

Meat, by Irish playwright Gillian Greer, is a searing examination of sexual assault and the damage it causes its victims. And there’s plenty more on the menu.

An old friend of chef Ronan (Declan Brown), calls into Meat, the newly opened and comically ambitious Dublin restaurant he co-owns with its maître-de, Jo (Alexandria Harris).

But Max (Georgia Wilkinson-Derums) isn’t just an old friend. She’s Ronan’s ex, and this is no mere social call. A successful blogger, she’s about to publish her memoir and in it she intends to write about a house party she went to with Ronan years ago, where he raped her.

They have plenty to talk about and work through, obviously enough, which they do through a haphazard and increasingly messy degustation dinner fuelled by a great deal of drinking (this is a very Irish play).

In case you fear what follows (over the next 90 minutes, no interval) will be one of those infuriating potboilers of the Joanna Murray-Smith variety where the governing concept sinks into a morass of impossible characters and auto-prompt dialogue, let me reassure you.

Greer’s play is a tightly wound and skilfully constructed vehicle to examine the cycle of possession and repossession, physical violence and the psychological oppression of women that doesn’t even require the perpetrator’s presence to blight their lives.

It may also be, as Max says to Ronan, about good men who do a shit thing (the singular is central, even if it’s hard to be convinced of its accuracy).

The play is a single, continuous event, but not in real time. Greer moves us backward and forward through the evening, so that its ebbs and flows, causes and effects, are revealed as logical progressions of thoughts, communication and action.

Both the writing and staging is technically impressive – the director Renato Fabretti is in particularly good form here, keeping us constantly on our toes – and amplifies the confusions besetting the characters without adding to ours.

It also allows for some very tidy, and genuinely funny, observations – the best, the carnivorous “ethos” of the restaurant that, I suspect, was lifted from the real-life Dublin café White Moose, which requires patrons ordering its gluten-free items to produce a doctor’s note confirming they are coeliac, or “fuck off”.

To approximately quote Greer’s fellow Dubliner Yeats, things really do fall apart in a moment of great violence – set designer Pippa Davis should be congratulated for a set that is claustrophobic but allows the actors to escape an avalanche of furniture, glassware, cutlery, crockery and food without visible injury.

That cast has a vigorous script to work with, and its women do fine things with it. Wilkinson-Derums conveys Max’s enduring pain, and her tangle of determination and hesitancy, with great accuracy, and Harris effectively milestones Jo’s development from a comic foil to someone much more significant in the narrative.

Unfortunately, Brown’s Ronan is far less successful; curiously Fabretti has him played in a almost constant state of overdrive, and you simply can’t have a character shout his way through an entire play and expect an audience to gain any insight into his character, or understanding of, let alone sympathy for, him.

Manipulative, dangerous men just don’t operate this way.

Greer intends for Ronan to have a great rage within him – there’s a strong subtext of Ronan’s “boy from the wrong side of the tracks” resentment throughout the play – but it loses its impact when it is so remorselessly exposed.

It’s an unfortunate misstep, because Meat is a powerful and significant play with an important message, and one that we are seeing played out in the corridors of power in this country today.

Meat runs until September 12 at Victoria Hall, Fremantle.

Pictured top are Georgia Wilkinson-Derums, Declan Brown and Alexandria Harris in ‘Meat’. Photo supplied

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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