Theatre Republic, La Boîte Studio
September 22 – 26
For many the process of food preparation can be akin almost to a form off performance art. It’s a concept that was explored last year in Metro Arts’ “Dokboki Box” and now even more intimately in “Saltwater”, a one woman show programmed as part of Brisbane Festival’s Singapore Snapshots focus.
With only 15 people in ‘audience’ with performer Jamie Lewis, this is indeed an intimate theatre event. And from the moment of entry into the La Boite Studio space it is clear that it is very much an authentic experience in which to lose oneself. Audience members begin with instruction to undertake handwashing ritual before taking places around a communal dining table at which we converse while preparing bean sprouts. Far from being contrived, this proves to be a surprisingly cathartic experience, not just in its repetition but its allowance for everyone’s comfort levels to settle as introductions are given and observations are made. Indeed, from the outset the ‘show’ has mood of shared experience, making it one that can readily be attended alone without intimidation.
Before long, Lewis is guiding the conversation towards reflections on audience member relationships with cooking and culture, including sharing learning-to-cook memories and Christmas food traditions, in a gentle manner that allows everyone to contribute (or not). And then she is sharing of her own recollections of standard childhood memories, sage motherly advice and newly-married life.
There is talk of food again of course as our meal of vegetarian devil’s curry is collaboratively prepared and communally served, full of flavour and heat to potentially numb your lips (and I’ve eaten Vindaloo in India!). But as water jugs are passed about we are soon back on course with Lewis’s segmented autobiographical monologue, this time of the cultural difference of her family’s first visit to her home in Melbourne with her Australian husband.
With such an aromatic and flavoursome backdrop, “Saltwater” is certainly a visceral experience, for which appreciation is encouraged by its relaxed atmosphere and Lewis’ contemplative, reflective demeanour. The result is an uplifting and emotionally satisfying theatrical experience that will not only evoke audience members’ own memories, but bring to life the important illustration of the poetry of everyday experiences. Even those theatre-goers usually reluctant to give credence to a conceptually-driven piece will surely walk way in satisfaction not just of the experience of a traditional Eurasian meal, but the comfort that comes from its reflections of one’s own culinary and culture memories.