Content warning: this article discusses sexual assault.
A female diner walks into a Dublin restaurant and tells its high-profile male chef she thinks he sexually assaulted her. And so begins Meat, a new play showing at Fremantle’s Victoria Hall.
Even on paper, there are many compelling reasons to book tickets to see this production, stat. It’s the first time Meat is being performed outside of London, where it made its debut last year. It’s also a chance to see the work of ambitious new local theatre group Fremantle Theatre Company (FTC). (More on that later.) But more importantly, it’s a play that urges audiences to think on sexual violence and consent – in a very 2020 kind of way. It’s tough stuff, dealt with through humour.
“Every couple of years I get a feeling in the back of my jaw that’s like, ‘There’s something interesting and knotty and complicated there,’” Gillian Greer, the Dublin-born, London-based playwright behind Meat, said during a video meeting with FTC. “I really wanted to go down that rabbit hole.”
Set in the dining room of a provocative new restaurant that serves only meat, the play is anchored around conversations between three characters, all played by West Australian actors, over the course of one boozed-up evening. Ronan, the restaurant’s hotshot Gordon Ramsay-esque chef who has a fondness for swearing, is played by Declan Brown. The female diner is Maxine (Georgia Wilkinson-Derums), a food blogger who dated Ronan at uni and is about to release a memoir. Then there’s Jo (Alexandria Harris), the restaurant’s 25-year-old owner who’s excited about hitching her wagon to Ronan’s kitchen talent.
Meat is a play that draws equally from Greer’s private life – her boyfriend is a chef – and her professional one. During her time as literary manager of London’s Soho Theatre, she remembers reading plenty of sexual assault-themed plays written by young women inspired by the #MeToo movement. Anger, trauma and graphic imagery were commonplace. Greer decided to try a slightly different approach.
“I tend to see a lot of work that talks about sexual assault, and I have found that these stories are often framed by strangers in the shadows or out and out villains,” she said in an online interview. “This wasn’t true to my personal experience, and I really wanted to grapple with the idea that often the ones who hurt us most are the people who love us.”
“I was also really inspired by the world of professional kitchens,” she continues. “It’s an incredibly masculine, high pressure and often oppressive environment, but it’s also a world that attracts disenfranchised people and offers enormous creative and professional opportunities. I thought it would be a really combustible and potent setting to explore some of these ideas.”
FTC company director Renato Fabretti says it was, in part, the complexity and nuanced storytelling of Meat that drew him to the play.
“It isn’t about fixing the problem,” says Fabretti. “It’s about getting good at having difficult conversations and knowing that you’re going to have to do that for a while. I think this play is really good at continuing the conversation and asking for a more nuanced engagement.”
Established in September 2020, the Fremantle Theatre Company is a dynamic new production group that aims to keep local talent working close to home rather than interstate or internationally. (Fabretti: “It’s a really good time to back your own, and that’s 100 per cent what FTC wants to do.”) Victoria Hall, the group’s almost-125-year-old home base, is an intimate space that can deliver homegrown theatre to 200 guests each session.
“We don’t have microphones on our actors,” says Fabretti. “You hear them and you feel them, which I think is something beautiful for theatre.”
Meat is showing at Victoria Hall until September 12. Tickets are available online.
If you would like to speak with someone about an experience you have had, or would like information, please call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800respect.org.au.