Good dinner scenes in film, TV and theatre are filled with plenty of awkwardness and drama, with a group of people confined to one place and forced to get along for the next few hours. For Midsumma Festival, writers Milly Walker, Charlie Lawrence and Victoria Barlow will be bringing their own variations of the dinner scene to life through a number of bite-sized courses full of absurdity, drama and comedy with Perpetual Stew, where every guest brings their own baggage to add to the pot.
It was an idea that had been with the three for quite some time and just needed the right moment until it boiled over into something more concrete. "At the early ideation stages we were playing with different story formats and structures and decided that we wanted to write a show that could fit all three of our distinct voices," Lawrence tells me. "During this process we all became drawn to exploring the dinner scene as it allowed us to explore a range of stories and gave us space to add our voices in a harmonious way. Not only did the dinner scene hold appeal structurally, but it also enticed us with its place in society and art. To us, food has always been a tool in which we share, whether it be deep truths, love, or commiserations."
"So Perpetual Stew results in a collection of stories that fall on a broad spectrum from conventional realism to abstract absurdism. While most of the scenes are comedic, audiences can also expect sides of poignant vulnerability. This isn’t your parents' anthology of dinner scenes, we want audiences to laugh, cry, and get weird with us."
"We threw around a lot of concepts when we were trying to decide on a title for the show but when we arrived at Perpetual Stew, we knew that it was the one. It basically refers to an old type of stew that was indefinitely left on the boil and continuously replenished by the people who ate from it," Lawrence explains. "In some circumstances people would come and add an ingredient to the stew, so that everyone eating it had contributed something. We felt this was a really apt title for our show as we’re providing an anthology of scenes that revolve around how we meet, interact, and let ourselves be vulnerable over food."
The coming together of this trio has led to new collaborations and processes for the three despite knowing each other for a number of years. "Victoria and Milly have been making theatre and collaborating on events since 2016, while Milly and I co-wrote student theatre together back when we were at university in 2015," Lawrence says. "Fast forward to 2023 and in order to pursue creative endeavours we found ourselves sharing an apartment in Prahran, so working on a show together became more of an inevitability than anything else. Given we each have our own distinct voice and style, writing Perpetual Stew provided a unique opportunity to see how that could interact and push each other’s limits."
Having three other actors performs their words (Courtney Crisfield, Conagh Punch, and Sam Eade), means these three will be the chefs of this kitchen, standing in the back watching their creations being enjoyed by the guests. "To have actors read and ultimately interpret a script can be daunting, especially with something that is comedic, but is not too dissimilar to how an audience would be interacting with a work upon viewing. We have a strong belief that through the rehearsal process, getting additional actors on board will be able to elevate the script that we have written. This could be perceived as a slight challenge but we’re embracing it as a beautiful opportunity to let our ideas expand or shrink in the rehearsal room," he tells me.
While all this talk of dinner and food has got us hungry, I do need to ask, what is the best dinner scene? "The one that we found we returned to time and time again, a text so rich it’s essentially a religious artefact, was the first episode of Fleabag season two. To call it a scene is maybe cheating as it is the duration of the episode but all of the dramatic elements are there, just drawn out. The primary tone of the dinner is comedic but it pushes to the forefront what so many people dread about a dinner with family: uncomfortable probing questions, snide remarks, and having to save face when your step mother says something totally inappropriate."
"It’s rooted in reality but the direct address to the audience breaks the form in a way that allows the narrator to have her drama and comment on it too. It’s not pretentious but it does make you feel like you’re in the know. And of course a human in all her humanness is still very much the centre of the scene. It’s funny, uncomfortable, and full of relatable mess, everything we hope Perpetual Stew will bring to Midsumma audiences."
1) My favourite meal is ...
Milly: Right now it’s pork wonton soup that I hand-make myself. That’s a flex.
Charlie: Duck ragu because it is objectively the best type of pasta sauce.
Victoria: Creamy mushroom pasta because Charlie is wrong about the best type of pasta sauce.
2) A TV show I would like to be cast in is ...
Milly: Deadloch because love the Kates and love Lesbians.
Charlie: Survivor because I would bring the drama.
Victoria: Great British Bakeoff because I want to be their friends.
3) A little known skill I have is ...
Milly: I can drink 8 espresso shots before midday and still have an arvo nap.
Charlie: Being able to perfectly distribute the same amount of liquid into many glasses.
Victoria: I do a great Scooby Doo impression. Ruh roh Raggy.
4) My proudest professional moment is ...
Milly: Making a fart machine for Starlight Foundation.
Charlie: Announcing the results of the last federal election on community radio.
Victoria: Leading a successful crowdfunding campaign for Vulcana Circus.
5) Happiness is ...
Milly: No more jobs.
Charlie: A negroni by the pool.
Victoria: Sleep ins, sunny days, and finding an Iced Soy Mocha for under $6.
Venue: The Motley Bauhaus, 118 Elgin St, Carlton
Season: 6 - 10 Feb | 6:00pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $35 Full | $28 Concession and Preview
Bookings: Midsumma Festival