What are some of food’s best cameos in the theatre?

Now We Know: Shakespeare and Shaw weren’t afraid of the foodie plot twist

Foodie plot twist: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in The Taming of the Shrew

Foodie plot twist: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in The Taming of the Shrew

 

Ah, September. Otherwise known, in Ireland at least, as theatre month. True, true, many folks visit the theatre year-round but for those of us who prefer to binge on our culture, autumn holds forth the annual delicacies of Dublin Fringe Fest, Dublin Theatre Festival and the nationwide Culture Night. Our schedules are full and some may have already bitten off more than they can chew – just how many shows can a person go to in a single night?

And what of food’s place in the theatre? Sure, it’s still frowned upon and relatively unheard of to munch on popcorn at a play (I mean, really) but food on the stage can be a very powerful trope, heightening already dramatic scenes with subtext and subtlety.

Perhaps one of the most gripping uses of food in a play is the dining scene in Rope, written in 1929 by Patrick Hamilton, based on a true story, and brought to the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock. The murderers hide the body of their victim in an antique wooden chest and host a dinner party for the unsuspecting family of said victim – using the aforementioned wooden chest as a buffet table for the party food. Cold as ice!

George Bernard Shaw set his plot twist around a waiter who serves a family a meal of soup, turbot, fowl, cold pudding and more in his 1897 comedy You Never Can Tell. Shakespeare wrote every host’s nightmare into the dinner scene of Macbeth – a ghost turning up uninvited. Imagine the ghost of an ex-friend who you, well, had assassinated pulling up a chair at your table? Awkward.

Shakespeare used food as a symbol of power, too. In The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s horrid play which sees a strong woman mercilessly taken down a peg, Petruchio denies his new wife Katherina food leaving her raging with hanger. Restricting her right to dine is yet another means he uses to manipulate Katherina, all with the aim of forcing her to fit into a suffocating mold of how a woman ought to behave so that her younger sister can finally get married. It’s enough to make an egalitarian’s blood boil.

Something may be rotten in Shakespeare’s portrayal state of Denmark, but it’s certainly not the food – or the story. The Oscar nominee Ruth Negga will play Hamlet at the Gate from September 21st until October 27th as part of Dublin Theatre Festival.

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