The Greek islands, what a beautiful place for a relaxing and rejuvenating holiday with friends and family. Only this holiday has a bit of an ulterior motive with Eddie hoping to sway colleague Jack into the company ethos, and perhaps pursue a smouldering affair on the side. Add alcohol and a touch of heat-stroke and this week away turns into an absolute disaster.
Writer Dennis Christopher George Potter was best known for his journalism and television writing with Sufficient Carbohydrate the only script he wrote exclusively for the stage. Described in the program as a criticism of the “Americanisation of mass media and English-speaking culture generally”, it’s telling that this appears to be the focus for the playwright, rather than the domestic violence, child abuse, incest, or manipulation that his characters engage in throughout the play. This tension between the US and Britain forms the backbone of the action, working as the impetus for Jack (George Gleeson) and Eddie’s (Haki Pepo Olu Crisden) disagreements and their attempt to reconcile abroad.
Eddie represents progress at all costs, the corrupting influence of technology and profit on Jack’s family business. Jack rails against the business model of genetic modification, artificial additives, and biological technology that he believes does away with pure notions of “natural” and “real” food. At the same time, the holiday is disrupted by family and relationship drama brought to the surface after a long night of drinking. Everyone is pretending Eddie and Jack’s wife Elizabeth (Maria Micaleff) aren’t having an affair but the close quarters make it difficult to ignore the sexual tension and sideways glances.
Jack is a droll stereotype of a British man prone to long speeches that he subjects both his family and the audience to; diatribes against the changing face of food production and extended metaphorical musings about longing and regret seemingly spurred on by a disappointing childhood. Gleeson does well to ground Jack and make him realistic as a sad and cynical man but the script makes it impossible to take the character seriously once he assaults Eddie’s wife Lucy (Vivien Wood), giving her a black eye and bruised ribs with no consequences whatsoever. The uncomfortable interpersonal climate becomes unstomachable when it’s revealed that after the battery, Lucy goes to her teenaged step-son’s room (Liam Dowley) to rape him. In the light of day, these events of adultery, assault, and rape are held up like semi-equivalent obstacles the group must navigate to return home as normal.
Direction from Roderick Chambers is as clean as it can be in the script’s incomprehensible moments but also works to honour Potter’s intention of examining the figurative fork in the road between the new American way and the traditional British way. The production hangs on the question of progress, which can be extrapolated to inform the consideration of all capitalistic endeavours since industrialisation. The characters are unlikeable but played honestly. Wood is particularly astute in her uncovering of Lucy’s husband’s affair which bounces well off Micaleff’s mocking and sarcastic characterisation as the bored wife.
The production design is commendable from David Pointon’s comprehensive Grecian villa set to the lighting design from Roger Hind and Ruth Lowry that illuminated the stage with glowing sunsets and bracing sunrises. The sound design was the final touch of cicada chirping to round out the complete atmospheric transformation.
Written in the late twentieth century, Sufficient Carbohydrate attempts to consider a globalising world and the consequences for Britain’s faded empire but Potter’s heavy-handed argumentation comes at the detriment of the realism and sympathy of his characters who commit unconscionable crimes without reprimand.
Sufficient Carbohydrate is running at the Guild Theatre from November 8th – 30th