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Hunger For Trade, Royal Exchange, Reviewed

Joan Davies takes in a theatrical response to the global food crisis

Written by . Published on April 25th 2014.

Hunger For Trade, Royal Exchange, Reviewed

MANCHESTER's Royal Exchange Theatre are staging four new plays as part of Hunger For Trade – an international performing arts response to the global food crisis.

What is on offer is part of what the Royal Exchange does best, using the flexibility of the Studio space to show compelling local actors performing sharp, well-written original drama from emerging talent.

Four exciting young playwrights have been working under the mentorship of acclaimed Stockport-raised playwright Simon Stephens. 

Opening night Thursday saw the first two plays, Black Gold by Kellie Smith and Tender Bolus by Brad Birch performed in the Royal Exchange’s flexible Studio space. 

Black Gold is set in a circle, the audience faced with bags of produce, cocoa, birdsong and gunfire.

Excellent performances from Chris Jack as Dayo, the Ivory Coast cocoa producer whose success results from hard work and reliability of trade with the West, represented here in the form of Shobna Gulati as Nina.

Nina and Dayo circle one another, mutually dependent yet rivals for profitability. Circumstances have changed and civil war threatens stability of production and transport. Who can be believed? Who is bluffing? And do loyalty and honesty have any place in the market place? This cleverly-written play touches on a range of ideas through entertaining dialogue and performance.


Olwen May as Linda and David Crellin as Duncan in Tender Bolus by Brad BirchOlwen May as Linda and David Crellin as Duncan in Tender Bolus by Brad Birch


Tender Bolus charts the drama of a desperate couple on the brink of bankruptcy who clamber for a lifeline during one last gorge at an adventurous, possibly tedious, fine-dining restaurant run by a successful former friend. Can anything be retrieved?  

David Crellin as Duncan and Olwen May as Linda spar furiously with contempt borne of a long relationship. The horror of the restaurant’s theme is a delightful surprise for the audience. Kimberley Hart-Simpson is a superb waitress, a mix of servility and dominant power. 

The restaurant is owned by former friend, or rival, Peter. Duncan and Linda are essentially here to beg. Tender Bolus is an entertaining look at our relationship with public dining, and the many ways it reinforces or threatens our sense of ourselves. 

Hunger For Trade, overseen by the Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, has been created in collaboration with nine theatres across four continents, with the Royal Exchange representing the UK.

The project focuses on our relationship with food within local and global markets. It has particular currency in today’s Manchester’s given the current dining scene, food banks, and debates about food waste. 

Black Gold and Tender Bolus run for three nights until Saturday 26 April, with a further two plays running next week. These are This Land by Alistair McDowall which explores how in court, on farms and in the dirt, big business is laying claim to everything nature has to offer.

Balance by Miriam Battye shows a family’s relationship buckling under the strain of a mother’s international career. Sara Sadeghi and William Ash join the cast. 

Royal ExchangeRoyal Exchange

Under the direction of Alex Summers and Polly Thomas, the first night of production ran smoothly on stage. The performance is described as ‘promenade’, but the audience doesn’t move, and is faced with a choice of standing, grabbing a seat on an uncomfortable crate, or sitting on the floor. I’m assured that future performances will be more accommodating for those needing a little more support. 

I was less impressed with the 'multi-media installation exploring production and consumption in the modern world', much of which seemed to underestimate the understanding of its audience. There’s a TV of talking local heads, which could have been interesting if audible above the chatter of an interval audience. 

However, the play’s the thing. What is on offer is part of what the Royal Exchange does best, using the flexibility of the Studio space to show compelling local actors performing sharp, well-written original drama from emerging talent. Adding Simon Stephens sharp-eye for dialogue to the mix provides the icing on the cake.

I’ll certainly be returning for the remaining two plays, though I do wish they’d replace the crates with their usual seating. 


Hunger for Trade runs for six nights at The Studio in the Royal Exchange Theatre from Thursday 24 April to Saturday 3 May.

Tickets here


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