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The company that eats together...

The company that eats together...DSC_3077-2-2

For every single Metta show we've ever made we have at some point hosted a company meal - generally dinner - and almost always in our home. In the same way that eating on stage is such an honest activity that it engenders honesty in performance, so too eating as a company breaks down barriers, forges bonds and engenders a sense of community. And since having children the whole notion of post-rehearsal or post-show drinks, has gone out the window so the company meal provides a rare opportunity to be together as a company in a non-work environment.

With MOUTHFUL - a play exploring the global food crisis - set around a dining table and involving various foodstuffs on stage the notion of a company meal felt like a necessity (as well as a pleasure). So this week we cracked out the bread-maker and whipped up a lentils-in-the-slow-cooker-special. Luckily our rehearsal room is a 3 minute walk from our flat so with some strategic timing I left for rehearsals with the lentils slow-cooking away and a loaf due to be ready 15 minutes before our lunch break. Much to Will's amusement I had also laid the table for lunch that morning at 6am when the boys got up. There were 10 of us for lunch and it's never to early to lay the table in my book! So we broke for lunch, hopped across the road to the flat and there we were - bread still hot from the oven, lentils (suitably vegan for our vegan cast member) and some obligatory hummus. And back in the rehearsal room an hour later. Boom!

Eating together, just that one meal, that one day has already shifted something within the company - and as we edge towards production week it's so vital that we're working together, as an ensemble, and all pulling in the same direction. 

aa30a993de34aa4f6ae4d7045cf0c96cThere are very few traditions that we observe within the Metta family (me, Will, our two little ones and now our full-time administrator Anthea) but eating together is one of them. Every lunchtime (when we're not in rehearsals for a show) the five of us sit down together and share a loaf of home-made bread, cheese, tomatoes, occasionally an avocado, always hummus. It's a small thing, but actually it's a huge thing. As chronic workaholics/parents of young children we're up at 6am and working til 1am most nights so breakfast, lunch and dinner are some of the only times that we stop. A time to check in, talk to each other, laugh - simply be together as a family. Precious times.

Food on stage

Food on stage

When we commissioned our six playwrights for MOUTHFUL I gave them a writer's brief that stipulated each piece must physically involve a foodstuff or drink on stage. I love seeing actors eating on stage (even more than I love good scene changes) - it's almost impossible to play false while eating because if you are really eating on stage then the honesty of that interaction seems to imbue everything else you do with truth.

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Of course it throws up some technical and practical challenges - two of the pieces require cooking on-stage - which will be wonderfully evocative and atmospheric for the audience in the bijou 98 seat Trafalgar Studios, and also a small nightmare for stage management in prepping things sufficiently. Especially when one of those cooking processes is boiling some potatoes and the duration of the scene is only 5 minutes. Though the Metta Theatre vegetable patch has finally come into its own - providing enough potatoes for all 31 performances! 

One of the pieces also requires a fully realistic whole dead cow. Of course it does! It's time like these that I'm eternally grateful to Neil LaBute who has written nothing more complex into his piece than a jug and a glass of water. Bless you Neil...FullSizeRender (3)

And of course the actor who ends up having to eat most of the food on stage turns out to be vegan so we have to make vegan chocolate look like Dairy Milk and vegan butter look like... well all butter looks kind of the same doesn't it. And actually it's used for a scene in a dystopian future where dairy butter no longer exists so it's technically more accurate. As MOUTHFUL is about how our food system is in crisis we can hardly complain - given that one of the single biggest differences any individual consumer can make to the system is giving up meat (and replacing it with proteins that use fewer resources to be farmed - ie veg or insects). 

Eating insects, that sounds weird, or does it? After MOUTHFUL you might try anything... especially on press night when we've got chilli and lime crickets as an interval snack [is feeding the national press insects the best way to get good reviews...?]

The wonderful world of scene changes...

The wonderful world of scene changes...

MouthfulThis week we began discovering the language with which we create the scene changes. Like most directors I love a good scene change - it's often an opportunity to explore a more heightened and stylised physical language and at their best these transitions between scenes even tell their own stories supporting, elucidating and revealing aspects of the scenes themselves. For this particular project - a multi authored piece jumping from contemporary Colombia, to the Tunisian bread riots to a dystopian future - they are also crucial in linking the multiple narratives thematically and establishing the right atmosphere for each new world. Not only do we straddle different geographical locations and time periods but the genre of the writing shifts from thriller to situational comedy to performance storytelling. So these are some pretty hard working scene changes. And on top of all that we also we use them to present through video projection some of the statistics and concepts underpinning the writing too. So we've had our work cut out for us this week!

Mouthful Reheasal

In typical metta fashion we've embraced an honest theatricality in the way we move between scenes. There's no disguising the doubling of our hard working cast - 4 actors between them playing 21 characters.  Costume changes are visible, partially allowing us in to the actors' process in creating each character, partially establishing the world and relationship dynamics within each piece. In a piece which explores the impact both politically and emotionally of food and drink they also offer us moments to heighten the symbolism and resonance of the food and drink items used within the play.

It's still early days but they're already cooking along nicely...