The production toured around the UK from February 2024

By: Apr. 18, 2024
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“Pinch of salt to bring out the sweet”

May Contain Food May Contain You, devised and performed by Sonya Cullingford and Simon Palmer, is Protein’s “scaled-down rural touring version” of May Contain Food, which was originally devised and performed by Cullingford, CARL HARRISON, Matthew Winston and Rachele Rapisardi. Conceived and created by Luca Silvestrini (who also directs) and Orlando Gough (who composed music for the show), May Contain Food May Contain You takes audiences on a journey through dance, spoken word, song and, of course, food. 

After heading up the stairs of Woolwich Works, you enter a large room where one of the staff members is at a bar where audience members can purchase drinks. There is also a table where donations for the food bank can be placed. Once through the first room, audience members are greeted by a dining room-like atmosphere, including nine tables with a range of themes. Some were more natural, covered in fake grass and plants while others were more artificial, including one completely covered in junk food and another set up for an afternoon tea. Another had furs as a type of tablecloth with a skull as a centrepiece and another had carbs all over it, mostly pasta and bread. I chose one of the “green” tables as it had space available. Along with the decorated tables, there is one in the centre of the room with water and a range of ingredients. At the far end of the room is an altar-like piece of furniture, topped by a microwave oven.

Audience members are greeted by three performers, two dressed as waiters (Sonya Cullingford and Simon Palmer) and another dressed as a chef (strangely uncredited in the programme). The show starts with everyone giving “Thanks and Praise” for the food on our tables before we are told to close our eyes and open them to a glowing plate of tomatoes on the centre of our tables. To be quite honest, there are several times during the show where you stop yourself and think, “Am I joining a cult?”

Indeed, there is a cult-like atmosphere to the show, with both Sonya and Simon chanting and singing, including a haunting song with the lyrics of “Eat this. Don’t eat that” repeating as the two dance around the room. There are a lot of prerecorded noises used throughout the show, including backing tracks to give more power to the songs. At times, Sonya also plays the violin, weaving between tables with ease. Moments like these are very Punchdrunk-esque, ironic as the company is headquartered right across the street from Woolwich Works.

I was particularly reminded of the company’s style in a demented scene where Simon and Sonya seemingly turn into the animals that are to be consumed, stripping down to their underwear and running around with different body parts on a platter of grass.

The show ends up being a bizarre mix of singing, dancing, speaking and eating, with the tone changing nearly as quickly as the performance styles. We at one point go from making Sonya’s Granny’s sticker ginger pudding (each table is given ingredients and instructions) and presenting the cake to the microwave oven like a gift to the altar to Sonya and Simon dancing at the central table, telling a story through aggressively yelling at each other, one word at a time. There are some moments in which there is a focus on the politics of food, and I particularly enjoyed Simon’s Basil Fawlty-eque rank at “capitalist food,” including when he calls a courgette given to him by Zonya a “condom-wrapped piece of shit.”

During the interval, audience members are encouraged to walk around and try the food at the other tables, as everything is meant to be shared. I saw a range of foods at each table including risotto, baklava and even homemade houmous! I also used the time to talk with my tablemates and we had a few off-topic conversations before the second act began with a raffle, which included prizes like biscuits, a bottle of prosecco, a mug, a show-themed apron and a bag of potatoes.

I would recommend not only bringing some food to share for the table (as well as donations for the food bank if you are able), but also another person to share it with. There were quite a few times where I felt out of place being at the show by myself as everyone around me had come in groups and they were sharing food they had made for one another. As one of the only people with an empty chair next to me, I found the performers, particularly the chef, had a tendency to sit next to me, which got a bit uncomfortable, especially when trying to take notes on the show! There was also a surprisingly intimate moment shared with a partner. As I came alone, I was paired with one of the performers, who was lovely, but it still was a bit of a strange experience. 

Ultimately, May Contain Food May Contain You is a show with an interesting concept that struggles to really delve into the issues it brings up, leaving the audience wanting more from the experience. Cullingford and Palmer are a fantastic duo, their chemistry making for conversations through dance and dialogue with great tension. With more of a stronger focus, the show could make a fine political statement.

May Contain Food May Contain You ran at Woolwich Works from 10 to 13 April after a tour around the UK that began in February 2024.

Photo Credit: Chris Nash, Andrea Macchia and Giulia Di Vitantonio


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