Friday, 3 July 2015

Saltwater, July 2, 2015 ***1/2

By Jamie Lewis (Part of Double Bill: Saltwater & Letters Home by Joe Lui) 
Theatre Works, until July 12, 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also  published in Herald Sun  in print on Tues July 7, 2015 & later online. KH

As her dinner guests arrive, Jamie Lewis sits quietly at a large, round dinner table, plucking the scruffy bits from a pile of bean sprouts.

She invites the 15 of us to help her pluck sprouts then directs us to hang our coats and bags.

Before we start the sprout plucking, she gently washes our hands in a soothing ritual that involves orange-scented soap and a hanging garden of washing bowls and carafes of warm water.

What follows is an hour of dinner-table conversation, food preparation and eating that engages the guests/audience as co-creators of this evening of – can we call this performance, or is it a social experiment with artistic process?

Whatever we call it, Jamie (I can’t call her by her surname after dining with her) is charming, warm, and pensive and the perfect host that makes all her guests feel comfortable and welcome.

The plain, wooden table is spread with sheets of Chinese language newspaper piled with bean sprouts. Some guests pluck silently and meditatively while others chatter nervously until Jamie eventually starts to talk.

She unobtrusively shifts the focus to herself as she tells autobiographical stories about her mother, her Singapori culture, identity, marriage and food.

Prompted by her unintrusive questioning, Jamie’s guests muse on how we learned to cook, whether our mothers taught us about cooking and what foods we associate with Christmas.

Slowly and deliberately, Jamie paints a picture of her relationship with her rather strict mother and how she, Jamie, learned to cook by observing because her mother would not teach her.

She cooks us a meal that she describes as a vegetarian version of a Singapori favourite know as Devil’s Curry, a dish that her mother prepares with chicken feet, chicken necks and hot dogs – yes, hot dogs.

She cooks. We eat. We all chat about our lives with the strangers seated beside us while Jamie intermittently and imperceptibly draws our focus back to her own stories.

She reveals her mother’s cryptic words of wisdom about marriage and relates her own moment of enlightenment while on a water slide at Wet and Wild.

All performance changes subtly with every new audience, but in the case of Saltwater, the audience is part of the evolution of the performance each night, which makes the evening strangely personal and difficult to assess.

There is certainly room for Jamie to expand the narrative elements of Saltwater by adding more stories about her life, her family, her culture and identity.

However, there is no need for her to increase the number of people on the guest list because that would ruin the intimacy of the night and the sweet charm of eating with Jamie.

By Kate Herbert

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