Times Mouthful review

Kate Maltby

Ever munched on a dry cricket? Turns out they’re tangy: imagine a spicy Marmite Twiglet crumbling between your teeth. As the earth’s population heads towards nine billion by 2050, we’re struggling to work out how to feed them: soaring oil prices, pushing up the cost of farming, haven’t helped. In response, Metta Theatre have commissioned six plays — and an insectile interlude — to explore the human impact of food scarcity. Poppy Burton-Morgan’s punchy production pulls out all the stops, (yes, even entomophagical bar snacks) to confront us with the science of what we eat, but it’sMouthful’s essential humanity that ensures the impact lingers.

This is a major project. Playwrights as diffuse as Neil LaBute and Clare Bayley have each worked with a senior scientist to examine a separate sub-strand of the food crisis. Vitally, William Reynold’s slick, textured design anchors the resulting playlets in a single aesthetic, a primary colour variation for each. This is the modern and elemental world at once, dry, terracotta earth beneath our feet, iPhone-esque screen lining the back wall.

On an ancient theme of earth as nurse and graveyard, Pedro Miguel Rozo’s Organica kicks us off to a strong start with the tale of Ruth (an articulate Alisha Bailey), the optimistic organics enthusiast who finds her Colombian toy farm holds a dark secret. Not everything that follows so deftly avoids Malthusian agitprop: Bola Agbaje’s Chocolate opens with a riotous take on a woman squeezing into skinny jeans, but descends into a Socratic dialogue on sugar addiction and the cocoa trade, minus Socrates.

Lydia Adetunji’s Bread on the Table is a similarly simplistic crib of wheat commodities trading. But next up, Bayley’s The Protectors is a knock-out, five-star dystopia reminiscent of Lucy Prebble or Zinnie Harris at their most promising: a vision of resistance in a world in which corporate food interests have eradicated natural vegetables. Heartbreaking.

Elsewhere, Tim Jackson’s ever-snappy choreography gives zest to dancing ants in tight red pants; LaBute, as ever, makes water shortage the excuse for uncomfortably effective sexual sadism in his16 PoundsTurned, by Inua Ellams, has to be seen to be believed. Make sure you do.

Box office: 0844 8717632 to Oct 3