A nod to both shared and segregated cultural histories, Irish Food. A Play aims to show that in Ireland’s past, you really were what you ate.
Upstairs at the Rustic Stone on South Georges Street, the dining room is littered with artifacts from Irish history. Across four large banquet tables, small religious statues face different directions, wooden bowls are stacked with crisps and seaweed, brown bread is in abundance, and metal teapots host paper straws with barbershop swirls. In one corner, a lampshade dons several slices of white toast, while the surrounding walls are decorated with woven crosses and netted curtains (quite possibly the same ones that hung in your grandmother’s living room, all that time ago). On the far wall from the entrance stands a fireplace, stacked with peat.
The set for Irish Food. A Play is a small shrine to the little history of Ireland, which matches the performance. The play, written by JP McMahon, lays out the historical relationship between food, politics, and religion in this country with honesty, humor, and verve; the cast (Meg Healy, Clodagh Mooney Duggan, Tom Duffy) kick off the play by bursting through a doorway, throwing flour over the audience while yelling out famous Irish delicacies: the Sunday roast, the Irish fry, the former president Éamon de Valera, it goes on.
The play, which is part of the 25th Dublin Fringe Festival, does what it says on the tin: it melds drama with food. The three acts are broken up by three courses – where mussels, bacon and cabbage, and sugar sandwiches appear on the menu – while the three performers break up national history with mentions of quintessential Irish foods, mixing political and religious viewpoints with a grocery list of items. At some points, the play reaches near Derry Girls humor, one character exclaiming that she didn’t realize Protestants ate the same things as Catholics, which preceded another character’s head being smashed between two slices of bread by his cast members as he munched on crisps from a plastic lunchbox. At other times, the play struck a flatter note, addressing colossal topics such and suicide and genocide; while the cast held their own at these moments, the tone change was usually unexpected and occasionally, incongruous.
The final moments whipped up a flurry of incantations, twirls, and food strewn across the restaurant floor. As the cast recited their lines, they passed fresh herbs between them, tearing the plants as they passed from hand to hand, so the room eventually filled with their sharp aroma. In a cycle, the trio declared that in Ireland, food is religion is history; from the bread of Holy Communion to the loaves kneaded by your mother and before that, her mother, this certainly rings true, but the repetition seems a little over seasoned at this stage in the play. A pinch less of the political in the performance – along with a sprinkle less of salt on the butter – would do this play no foul; in fact, it may result in a perfect theatrical recipe.
Irish Food. A Play was shown at the Rustic Stone Restaurant as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival 2019. You can find more information about the festival on its website, here.
All images courtesy of Dublin Fringe Festival 2019.