Spoken Word is not new as a genre. But if you aren’t yet convinced of the relevance of poetry as a medium to convey powerful ideas, then see this solo show – which pulls no punches and features superb writing throughout.
Inspired by real-life issues and events, writer Sabrina Mahfouz’s talent is recognisable in Jade Anouka’s robust and energetic performance. Between them, they encompass sadness, despair, injustice, hope, love, friendship and alienation. There’s rhythm, pace and power in Mahfouz’s words, and drama enough in this sparse production, whose props are limited to a whiteboard and Chef’s whites.
Food becomes a metaphor for life – not Chef’s world of disappointment, deprivation, degradation and limited opportunity, but the one of beauty and optimism she imagines and expresses in the dishes she’s learned to cook. Her enthusiasm is inspiring. Chef is no stranger to abuse, yet throughout this show she reveals a willingness and capability to nurture. Her delightful account of satisfaction from cooking breakfast for her friend is especially memorable.
Unfortunately she’s in a prison kitchen now – and delicious dishes like coconut curried tofu, yellowtail sashimi, red wine risotto and red berries with hibiscus sorbet are all off the menu. She’s persuaded the prison authorities to get in some fruit, and her opening lines pay homage to the peach she holds out to us, a metaphor for dreams of better days she hasn’t known yet.
Back in the prison kitchen she finds trouble; having taken a risk to help out a self-harming inmate get a job on her watch, and signed her name to responsibility for kitchen knives, who knows why she would throw it away. But something happens which sets her back big-time; we are left to draw our own conclusions as to her role in the event.
Current issues like the state of prisons, especially for women, and outwardly ridiculous rules preventing prisoners from receiving books are also woven in to Chef’s narrative. It’s elegantly couched in the rhetoric of protest which spoken word lends itself to.
Googling reveals Mahfouz to have won a Sky Arts Futures Fund Award last year, on the back of which she set up Poetry on Production (P.O.P.) to create, produce and promote performance poetry. On the strength of this show I for one shall be looking out for more from her and P.O.P.