Meat: Matt Harris’ new play questions the abuse of political correctness | Theatre Review

The dreamscape bleeds freely into reality in Meat, playwright Matt Harris’ stage adaptation – or re-imagining – of Tennessee Williams’ short story Desire and the Black Masseur.

Directed by Vernon Douglas, this current production is moving to The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, Kentish Town from 22 November, after completing its run at the Albany, Deptford last week.

Meat follows the surreal experiences of Ashley Hicks (Nicholas Clarke), a well-meaning if weedy clerk for a repressive (nameless) organisation. Suffering from chronic narcolepsy Hicks grip on reality is never very firm and the line between dreamland and the real world is inscrutably smudged.

Ashley faces two formidable challenges at work; rebuffing the sexual advances of his boss Maggie (Virginia Byron) and her frighteningly officious tactics in upholding political correctness within the office environment.

Unable to find a release, in somnolence Hicks’ fantasies, discriminatory thoughts, religious conflict and crushing insecurities close in on him, taking the form of accusatory colleagues and his younger self (skilfully portrayed by Ben Walton). His latent desires and prejudices converge in a confused infatuation for Lloyd (Marlon G Day), his new African-Caribbean co-worker. Seeking solace at the cinema each night, Hicks discovers that his problems stalk him even there.

Nicholas Clarke’s depiction of Ashley is the production’s piece de resistance. He really brings sensitivity and compassion to the plight of this broken and disenchanted apparatchik; lost in a soulless system and undone by many enemies without and within, not least his sleeping disorder.

Harris’ controversial script hilariously deconstructs the folly of political correctness gone mad. In Ashley’s world even the use of supposedly innocuous words such as ‘cream’ take on perverse racial or sexual significance as Maggie and co endeavour to bring the workforce under the chokehold of a ridiculous, hyper-censorious regime.

Harris’ use of illicit, un-PC humour to evince some belly laughs yet at the same time fuelling heated post-show discussion is enough to recommend Meat.

Where the piece falls short, to my mind, is its reductive approach to Christianity –namely that its primary tenet, according to the play, is the biblical objection to a homosexual lifestyle.

Weighed down by a seriously sacrilegious undertone, as Meat heads towards its conclusion some of its message comes across as over-simplistic; heavy-handed and agenda-ridden even. The scenes where Ashley’s lustful fantasies about Lloyd finally come to the fore are also rather distracting. Coupled with bafflingly vulgar dialogue, the sensationalist elements soon become laboured and off-putting.

Nevertheless, with Meat Harris and Douglas pose some vital questions about the abuse of political correctness being a potential by-product of worthy, if sometimes misguided, attempts to achieve equality for all. It is telling-and a sad irony- that I initially thought to censor some of my views on the play lest they prove unpopular or are misunderstood. Then again, as a member of the fourth estate, if I muzzle myself in fear of being un-PC, I really haven’t taken away all that I should from Meat.

Meat is at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre (42-44 Gaisford St, Kentish Town, London NW5 2ED) from 22-27 November.
Box Office: 08444 771 000