If only one aspect of MEAT was to be praised, it would not be the costumes (though these were note-perfect), nor the stunning performances of the small cast (though they were impeccable), nor even the pink soup (which looked disgustingly like watered down Angel Delight) – but the faultless attention to detail of the play.
Advertised as more of an ‘experience’ or a ‘concept’ (if that sounds pretentious, in this case it was not intentional) than your run-of-the-mill theatre piece with programme, prompt and velvet curtain, MEAT so fully enveloped the audience into the terrifying world of the St. Catherine’s Club, you found yourself looking over your shoulder on your way out for Charlie Moon brandishing a hot poker and a glass of milk. A note on the character of Charlie Moon: the link of his beverage of choice to the psychopathic Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ may have been wanky English Literature student over-thinking on my part, but felt very apt.
Congregating at the Barron Theatre on the instructions of an ostentatious invitation, complete with signatures and wax seal, the intimate audience of around 30 were then escorted to a ‘secret location’ by St Catherine’s alumnus David Foreman, who was ‘doing his PhD in Social Anthropology and would be presenting a talk on Male Expression and Animal Tendencies’. Very slick. The action of the play then proceeded with a very voyeuristic slant, feeling genuinely as though a curtain was being pulled back on the shadowy workings of an elitist gentleman’s club; of lifting up a rock, and watching the maggots wriggle beneath.
Though Tim Foley penned his ‘homoerotic dining experience’ before the Kate Kennedy Club/Kate Kennedy Fellowship/Ku Klux Klan debacle, his timing was eerily impeccable, the play garnering enough buzz to sell out a week before the first performance. This was undeniably exciting, and luckily the feverish anticipation of those who’d managed to get tickets was not disappointed. The play is very static in location, yet this adds to rather than takes away any tension; the characters are explicitly forbidden to leave the table, leading rapidly to a sense of claustrophobia and rising panic.
The only person free to enter and leave is the silent waitress, ‘Gordon’, who in a surreal twist wears a dress, illustrating the warped conundrum of a society where women are negated, yet the privileged diners must have someone inferior to serve them. The over-decorated room, physical grotesqueness of the characters, and irrationally-coloured soup all have strong overtones of David Lynch. You expect any minute for dwarves to appear from under the tablecloth and start talking backwards. It is profoundly unsettling, even disregarding the suggestions of cannibalism, and the sight of a mentally disabled student masturbating into a cup to provide an alternative to mayonnaise.
The dialogue is snappy, cutting and slyly satirical of the sorts of exclusive associations which inevitably make up much of St. Andrews society. Yet this is no morality play; the piece ends ambivalently and questionable deeds are left unpunished. The sense of unease lingers long after the metaphorical velvet curtain has fallen.
Images sourced by Nicole Horgan