Memorable Mem

Leftovers: Mem Morrison. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Ivan Howlett

Leftovers: Mem Morrison. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Witty, poignant, and totally absorbing - that's Mem Morison's piece of performance art that has been doing the rounds, including the Edinburgh Festival.

It's a memory show. Mem is of Turkish-Cypriot origin and he recalls and re-enacts his youth in this country. It was spent living over the bacon-and-eggs South London café ran by his parents. Upstairs, in cramped conditions, the Muslim family of six lived a quite different cultural life, eating none of the food that provided their income.


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Mem's been building up a body of stage work-based on his Turkish-Cypriot roots. A strong element is the immigrant experience, the sense of being outsiders.

“Do I look Italian?” He asks the audience several times, pretending to quite like the idea. The audience seems nervous about answering. Clearly, the next door neighbours for twenty years thought they were Italians in spite of the shish kebab barbecues that regularly went on in the garden.

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The family had felt outsiders even in Cyprus, where they were thought to be English. Then before England, they were in Australia. Outsiders, they were there, without question.

There are two versions of Leftovers; one is done in cafés and one in theatres. Here, dozens of loaves of wrapped sliced bread, superbly illuminated by Marty Langhorne, mark out the stage configuration. Mem moves the loaves round recalling the shape of the kitchen, the diner, and the other rooms of his memory. He builds iconic shapes with the loaves, he takes the paper wrapping off and gives slices to members of the audience and, to the sound of sizzling and frying, lays out areas of the floor with the white slices - tiles - making up the café tables.

We hear, for this is a sound installation as well, bits of recorded conversations echoing the immigrant experience. It all comes to a moving set-piece conclusion when Mem slowly and carefully lays, on the floor, two tables one traditionally English for Christmas, the other Turkish.

It's a very wistful, gentle, charming, show musing on how the different cultures rubbed along in South London. The differences come out through the cultural identity of food.

What makes the show is Mem Morrison's magnetic stage presence. The material's good, well conceived and written and he performs it with great style.

Ivan Howlett

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