Everyone has a relationship with food. For some its straightforward, for others it’s complex. Food in terms of nourishment isn’t just that which we eat, either. Love, security, and all sorts of other things make us feel full. In Milk, three generations of couples in the same town negotiate what matters most to them and makes their lives feel complete. This is a slowly burning script that comes into its own towards the end when conflict becomes so high that the six characters lives cross outside of their partner’s. There is some good character detail, but writer Ross Dunsmore’s first play shows promise but needs further development.
Steph and Ash are fourteen. Ash is a fairly typical teen boy, but Steph, from a dysfunctional home, has a pathological need to be sexually desired. When Ash doesn’t satisfy, she finds a new, more dangerous target. Danny and Nicole are young marrieds expecting their first child. When the baby arrives, unforeseen complications and postpartum hormones challenge Nicole’s preconceptions about motherhood and open a divide between the couple. Cyril and May are in their 90s and homebound, too scared of the changing landscape of architecture and aggressive young people to go out. As they fantasise about past Sunday roasts, their hermetic existence takes its toll.
The storylines that Dunsmore unfolds are all believable though in their kinship to real life, they take most of the play to reach any level of compelling conflict. Cyril and May’s story has hardly any, rendering it the least interesting and most forced plotline. Whilst the other two are more dynamic, they are underserved in this intertwining format. The two younger couples could each easily have an entire play devoted to them; to force them all into one feels indecisive in the face of several ideas.
Fred Meller’s design is cold and utilitarian, though has some lovely surprises that are gradually unveiled. Director Orla O’Loughlin delineates the three couple’s worlds well and captures the easy rhythm of Dunsmore’s dialogue without adding any forced stylisation.
Without a doubt, Dunsmore’s couples all have compelling stories to tell (though all are heteronormative, white and skew towards female dependency on men), but the format he uses to tell them is not the most effective. Too much exposition interferes with the empathy for the characters and whilst the ending is a satisfying payoff, the build to it is too little and too late.
Milk runs through 28th August.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.