Last week I witnessed a food fight. It was messy, nasty and sticky. In the aftermath, red jelly and pieces of cake stuck to the floor in a sad, splattered mess. But this wasn’t some toddler party or some misdemeanor caused by Katy Perry – it was theatre.
Playing With Food: Meals And Memories was the result of a year-long collaborative project formed by Glasgow’s Cranhill residents and A Moment’s Peace Theatre Company in partnership with Platform Theatre, and also part of Refugee Week Scotland 2012.
The show was held in Cranhill Parish church, and I didn’t know what to expect. We were ushered in by the cast to a cozy hall. No standard seating here – there were comfy sofas, armchairs, big cushions, throws, tables and dimmed lights from standard lamps, all reminiscent of a large living room.
Once seated, the residents served tea in proper china cups and saucers. This was welcoming and homely. Ok – where’s the cake and biscuits? And that was the problem – empty tins – Annie had eaten them all.
And so the play started – they were going to bake us a cake.
Food and the rituals around eating is a simple, effective and clever way to tell a story. From films like Chocolat to The Waitress and Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistlestop Cafe, food can be a focus. It can be used to console and celebrate … as well as a basic means of survival. It has the power to create divisions between the wealthiest and poorest but it can also bring communities together – and this is what Cranhill shared with us – their community spirit.
And so the eight strong cast, residents in the area, with no previous acting experience, donned aprons and one by one sat on a stool in front of us and told their own story of Cranhill.
We drank tea and listened to a series of funny, heartwarming and touching tales. Tales of hope, love, inspiration and things held dear – like a first experience of having a proper inside toilet, with a light. No more fumbling outside in the cold and dark and trying to keep the door shut with one hand.
There were stories about food and cooking, from those who learned to cook watching their mothers and those whose mothers wouldn’t let the kids near the kitchen, to tales of trying to cook onion soup to impress a girlfriend.
The residents wrote their own material. Angie Cunningham wrote a poem and Maureen Hamilton’s recipe for the area was a play on the word Cranhill.
A cleverly choreographed scene where everyone worked in unison putting imaginary ingredients in a bowl and mixing was very effective.
It was all very harmonious – so why the food fight?
This part of the story was told from the perspective of a mother sitting between her “sons” played by Brian Greer and Denis Clark. It was meal time and the story started with “I’d only ever been to one food fight before …” and every course finished with “the food fight didn’t start here …”. The “boys” played up behind the mother’s back. Denis picked on Brian and made sure he got the blame for everything. Eventually we got to the dessert and the food fight began – all the cast came out wearing waterproof ponchos – jelly and cake was thrown around everywhere.
This was an entertaining and well thought out play and there is a book to accompany it, which I would recommend. It’s only £4 and inside there’s lots of photos of Cranhill residents in their kitchens, people involved in Cranhill Development Trust and artistic staff from A Moment’s Peace Theatre Company. The little stories and comments bring the book to life and there’s lots of recipes, like Annie’s – who can make everything in a mug – even an afternoon teacake.
“It wasn’t just one person who taught me how to cook, cooking is just such a big part of the culture when growing up in Pakistan.”
“When I was first married we just had a room and a kitchen. There wasn’t much space at all. Then we moved up to Cranhill and it was a vast improvement.”
“The intention of this project, co-produced by A Moment’s Peace and Platform, was to create spaces for people to come together and share their experiences, as well as to engage as many people as possible in a discussion about the personal and cultural importance food has within our lives. Along the way new friendships have been formed, memories have been shared, exciting theatre has been made and a lot of lovely food has been described, cooked … and eaten.”
Extracts from Playing With Food: Meals and Memories from Cranhill residents