Review: Pepper and Honey, York Theatre Royal

Pepper and Honey is a touching piece that explores the challenging themes of immigration and acceptance in post Brexit-Britain, through the two things we can all relate to: family and food. Seen through the lens of a grandmother and her granddaughter Ana, we learn that staying where you are born and moving away aren’t as different as the sound. We all have to wait; we are all searching for acceptance and we are all trying to find home. 

Tina Hofman’s performance is stunning as she seamlessly switches between roles and languages, making us not only her audience, but her friends. Her exquisite physicality is extremely precise, showing the obvious detail Kitty Randle has focused on the piece in her role as movement director. Even though this is a one-woman show, Hofman is not alone onstage. Us as audience members are included at every turn, being given coffee cups, folding blankets, being customers at Ana’s patisserie and baking assistants to Ana’s grandmother. I enjoy these participatory aspects as they do solidify the works elements of comedy, however I do think having three audience members onstage to place ingredients into a bowl becomes dragged out and unnecessary, as the recurring joke of the language barrier between actor and audience wears thin. 

Aside from the delicious baking smells Pepper and Honey brings to the YTR studio, it also asks pressing and pertinent questions of immigration, Brexit and family ties. We are shown the derogatory language immigrants are faced with in this country, through Ana using icing as representations of the people whose racial abuse she has faced, as well as the hostility she feels as Britain leaves the EU and the fight for her settlement rights begin. We hear that some of Ana’s friends are ‘no longer welcome’ to stay in the UK but as she plainly states ‘I have been here for twelve years, where else would I go?’ It is questions like this, and the racist rhetoric recounted by Ana that forces us to look beyond the wholesome narrative of a girl opening a patisserie and gaining acceptance from her grandmother, and through to the harsh realities below. These elements make us sensitively consider the plight that many immigrants still face in this country, even if the remarks are, at times, very on the nose.  

The bond we see between Ana and her grandmother is incredibly touching, real and resonating. Excellently crafted, we are able to understand both women’s lives and their decisions to stay or go, as we as we follow Ana’s grandmother’s eventual acceptance of Anas new life. The two women balance and complement each other as they learn from one another, with Ana’s grandmother bringing fire and punch while Ana has a far calmer and indecisive tone throughout the piece.  

Pepper biscuits pull the piece together providing a through line that takes us on a journey across countries, issues and cakes. While Pepper and Honey does openly address issues of acceptance and migration, it is also a view into a girl’s journey to find her place and the acceptance of her grandmother. This is a political piece, with some sections directly asking the audience to consider the issue of immigration, but that does not distract from the character and heart of the work: a longing to find home and family. 

Sugar, spice and the recipe for life. Pepper and Honey is a wholesome look at family, belonging and loneliness that bridges the gap between generations, cultures and oceans.

Pepper and Honey played the York Theatre Royal until 4 February, and is touring until 15 May. For more information and tickets, visit the Not Now Collective website.