In all honesty, this is the first time I’ve reviewed a show and found it difficult to put into words how I felt about it. MEAT is a messy, rich story about the aftermath of being hungry and in love. It is complex, personal and bleeds like an open wound. It’s a play about trauma, about how much it is worth and who is collateral damage to it.
Set in an artisan restaurant in Dublin, a writer breaks the news to her ex-boyfriend that a particular night during their relationship will be served up to her readers in her upcoming memoir. Gillian Greer asks us how ethical it is to reopen old wounds for the sake of art, and whether trauma has become a commodity to be bought, sold and served neatly on a plate.
We meet three characters: Max, a successful blogger, now writing a memoir; Ronan, a chef; and Jo, who has worked relentlessly to build her restaurant business with Ronan. Max and Ronan have a shared history that has left both of them scarred. Max wants to tell her own story about what Ronan did to her in order to heal from it, but in doing so would destroy everything Jo has worked so hard for. Through these characters, Greer asks us: how do we heal from trauma when our healing comes at the detriment of an innocent third party?
What complicates matters is Max’s book deal; we never meet Max’s editor, yet there is the distinct impression that the night in question is not something Max is ready to write about. Just like Ronan with his bacon sundaes, she is being encouraged to serve her trauma on a plate to satiate a hungry audience.
As a production, MEAT is slick and gripping. Although it takes place over one night, the story is not linear, rather hopping across time throughout the evening until its messy conclusion. Gradually, as the memories flood back in for Max and Ronan, more and more wine is spilled and fois gras smeared on the walls. Lucy Jane Atkinson’s direction creates an intensity which really leaves the audience reeling long after the show ends. The tension never drops for a moment and the transitions between scenes become more and more frantic as more and more food flies off the table and onto the walls.
Towards the end, Max talks to Jo about how she sometimes feels she’s a sociopath for not being destroyed by what Ronan did to her. It doesn’t eat her alive like she’s been told it should, so maybe it didn’t happen. For me, that speech hit very close to home. When it comes to rape, we are fed a certain narrative by the media. We are encouraged to see survivors as victims whose lives have been shattered by these staggering events. We picture rapists as objective monsters like Harvey Weinstein, and not as everyday people, people like Ronan who we know and care about and even love, who have done bad things and not been held accountable for them. When we experience rape or we read about it or watch it in plays, we try to fit the people involved into binary roles so that they fit the narrative. Max’s experience, like real life, real experiences and real survival stories, does not fit into the narrative laid out for us. It is messy and it is complicated and it leaves collateral damage.
MEAT is playing Theatre503 until Saturday 14 March. For more information and tickets, see https://theatre503.com/.