Dinner, An Edible Cabaret

Playwright Patrick J O’Reilly puts sex on the menu in the latest production from Red Lemon

Interview with Patrick J O'Reilly by CultureNI

Dinner, an Edible Cabaret, the latest musical from Red Lemon Productions, is probably not for the faint of heart. The company have a reputation for leaving no cultural shibboleth unsullied, no social taboo unchallenged in their performances. It is a reputation that artistic director Patrick J O’Reilly embraces gleefully.

‘That’s one of the assets of Red Lemon Productions,’ he explains. A wiry, intense man with cropped hair and a quick smile O'Reilly sits sideways, one arm hooked over the back of the chair, as he talks. ‘We create quite grotesque, imaginative and innovative performances. So while they aren’t always going to be accepted by the general public we aim to make physical theatre, grotesquery and ritual an important aspect of theatre in Northern Ireland.’

2009 saw Red Lemon make significant inroads towards achieving that goal, with a successful season culminating in the December staging of O’Reilly’s play The Weein at OMAC. It was one of the last plays staged at the OMAC before it closed in 2010.

The Weein is a scathing indictment of the idea of designer babies and the quest for perfection, something, O’Reilly points out, that is a ‘curse’ in the play. It is set in a dystopian future Belfast where genetically designed children like the Weein replace their less-than-perfect peers in ambitious parents' affections. The discards are relegated to a brutal dumping ground with the only escape the literal flesh-market where they are auctioned off to potential families.

It was an idea that had a particularly personal resonance for O’Reilly, who wrote as well as directed the play. ‘I grew up in a home until I was three,’ he explains matter-of-factly, 'I don’t remember any of it but I was always very interested in the idea of how you grow up as a person if you don’t receive care during those first years of life.’

The Weein received support from disabled theatre-goers, who told O’Reilly that they empathized with the idea of being discarded because of a single physical flaw. ‘You can have a lot of problems in your life from other people,’ O’Reilly says, ‘just because of one disability.’

The script for The Weein also earned O’Reilly the prestigious Stewart Parker Award from the BBC, 'a great achievement', O'Reilly's words. ‘It made my career, it solidified a lot of my ambitions.’

Not that he has any intention of resting on his laurels. While the plaudits for The Weein were still pouring in early 2010, O’Reilly had already started work on Dinner, an Edible Cabaret, in which O’Reilly offers up a ‘sumptuous, indulgent musical’ of food, sex and longing, inspired by certain political and personal indiscretions that came to light in early 2010. ‘I don’t mention any names!’ O’Reilly says with a grin. ‘It’s completely fictional.’

Peter and Siobhan are a happily married couple in leafy suburbia, but on a Monday evening they engage in an extra-marital affair. Unfortunately on this occasion their guest is Joyce, whose traditional views on sex and marriage manages to ruin the evening.

Except in Dinner, an Edible Cabaret sex is food and food is sex. The eponymous dinner is an analogy for an affair and the characters take on the characteristics of food. Peter is steak that tastes good with everything, Siobhan is the sauce that adds a bit of spice and traditional Joyce gets to be the unexciting cabbage that ruins the meal. Anyone who has ever had a mound of over-boiled greyish leaves presented to them on a plate can understand why.

That isn't a double entendre, but with Dinner, an Edible Cabaret they are hard to avoid. A simple question about whether O'Reilly ate out a lot for research sounds like it should be followed up with a wink and a nudge. 'People will think I've put on a few pounds,' O'Reilly protests.

He baulks at describing the play as being sympathetic to his characters' extramarital (extraculinary?) affair, but accepts 'empathetic' as an alternative. It's not the adultery that bothers him, but the hypocrisy that greets it.

‘We have quite a conservative attitude, but everyone has hidden desires and fantasies that can’t remain secret forever,' he concludes. 'We’re only human, so lay off someone else for indulging in something they shouldn’t.’

With the character of the Voyeur/Master-Chef lasciviously directing the mixture of ingredients and a high-energy, fun collection of songs written by O’Reilly himself, Dinner, an Edible Cabaret looks set to follow in The Weein’s footsteps. Just don’t get any ideas if you are offered nibbles during the intermission.

Tammy Moore

Dinner, an Edible Cabaret can be seen at The Crescent Arts Centre until May 8, at the Black Box on May 10 - 11 and at the Ulster Hall Group Theatre on May 12. Check out Culture Live! listings for more details.