By David Hennessy
Gillian Greer’s MEAT is powerful and thought-provoking. The Dublin playwright’s piece, currently playing at Theatre503, sees Maxine (played by India Mullen) visiting the restaurant of her former boyfriend, Ronan (Sean Fox).
However, the reason for her visit is far from a nice walk down memory lane. Blogger Maxine plans to write about the time Ronan raped her at a party when they were seeing each other. She has come to give him fair warning and perhaps get some answers for herself.
‘I’m not fodder,’ Ronan tells her. He had hoped the night was his chance to impress Maxine now that he is running his own restaurant but the accusation takes him by surprise. Although he says he can’t remember the incident, he lets something slip that reveals he does.
Over dinner, the couple pick at their relationship and that night with the writing confronting issues such as silence not equating to consent.
Gillian told The Irish World what inspired the play: “I’ve always written about sexual politics. My wonderful partner is a chef and I was always interested in that world. This play was just those two interests colliding.
“I realised that sexual assault doesn’t usually happen with a man in a bush or a stranger and often the people that hurt us the most can be the people we care about or who love us. I just thought that was a really interesting area to explore.
“Rape within relationships or how consent operates in a relationship is something that is often taken for granted. I wanted to delve into the detail of that and how it can really go wrong.
“Then obviously as I was writing it, Harvey Weinstein happened and #metoo happened and then these conversations that I was trying to write, started to happen around me in real time and that was really interesting as well.
“But I never wanted it to be bogged down in that if I could avoid it. I felt like it was a true story before #metoo and it remains a true story after #metoo. I don’t think I need to tap into a political moment in order to tell that story. I hope not anyway.”
India Mullen gives a powerful performance as Maxine, reliving a trauma she had ignored for many years. The play rests on her performance and she does admirably, evoking sympathy without ever asking for it and displaying an endearing strength.
Talking about old times, it becomes clear that Ronan despises what he sees as snobbery although his vitriol is mostly reserved for an old friend/ admirer of Max’s called Fiach. With his chance to rub his posh ex-girlfriend’s nose in it taken away, he builds to a frightening explosion.
Sean Fox is compelling as Ronan. While the character has come a long way to now be running his own restaurant, things he gives away show he has not changed. On the surface, Ronan’s impression of Fiach are funny but underneath there is a bitterness and jealousy.
The surprise element of the night for me was Ellinor Lawless’ Jo, stealing many of the early laughs. However, it is her early function of the comic relief that allows her character to surprise by comforting Maxine later on and believing her.
The Irish World highly recommends MEAT as the best show we have seen in a long time.
Gillian adds: “This is a story that is rooted in love. I think the thing that we realised as we were making the show was that this story doesn’t work, and this play doesn’t work, if you don’t believe in love. I think that’s what makes it so heartbreaking, that’s what makes it so difficult.
“The fact that my partner is a chef meant that I was exposed to a world that I just find really rich and interesting and full of imagery and is a really male dominated world. A world that is often quite oppressive, a world that is intense and demands long hours and enormous commitment from particularly men, particularly young men, particularly working class young men.
“I also felt there’s a lot of opportunity there for something about the relationship between food and sex and how they are both essential nourishing parts of life that can also be quite difficult and poisonous and traumatic. I think exploring the similarity between those two things was part of what made me choose that world.”
MEAT is at Theatre503 until 14 March.