'Night Breakfast' is a play inspired by the real life events of the 2003 Fairfield floods (1 – 6 December), and the consequent interviews that were conducted with older women living in the Darebin area.
Merilee Moss's Night Breakfast is a play inspired by the real life events of the 2003 Fairfield floods (1 – 6 December), and the consequent interviews that were conducted with older women living in the Darebin area. It is not only a celebration of the human spirit, but a story about human resilience, community connection and the unique multicultural microcosm that is Melbourne.
Seven Australian women from different cultural backgrounds – Irish, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Turkish, and English –are stranded overnight in the floods. By a series of strange coincidences they all end up finding refuge in the same abandoned building and, through sharing the stories about their lives, form a lasting friendship that crosses all age and cultural boundaries.
First there is Joan (played by Frances Hutson) and her daughter Christine (played by Margaret Dobson). Joan is an elderly woman who has lost her husband and had a stroke. She is typical of the older generation of Australian women who don’t like to talk about sensitive topics, but would rather ask you want you want for dinner instead. Christine on the other hand is a 57 year old lesbian who was forced to give her son up for adoption and is constantly being criticised by her mother for being, ‘fat’, ‘single’ or ‘whatever’. She wants to ‘talk’ with Joan and they suddenly find that being trapped in their car in an impending flood gives them the perfect opportunity to do just that, but not for long. They make their escape and soon find themselves in good company with the following cast of characters.
Aphrodite (played by Anthea Sidiropoulos) is a beautiful older Greek woman who loves to sing, dance and play the guitar. She gets caught up in the rising waters with a lively Chinese woman called May (played by Dorothy Yiu). Together they rescue an older Italian woman called Sophia (played by Angela Padula) who is on her way home with her food shopping. All three of them then stumble across an abandoned dance hall, smash a window and let themselves in to avoid being swept away or drowned.
They start to tell stories to take their minds off the fear of not being rescued. They talk about their children, husbands, illnesses and then they start to talk about food. All the lovely recipes they love to cook and eat – Chinese crab, Greek cakes, Italian biscuits, Lasagna, Sweet and Sour, Moussaka, Banana cake and to top if off some Iced Vo-Vo’s with a nice cup of tea.
Meanwhile at the same time two other women are also in need of flood assistance. Nicky (played by Helen Delaney) is an Irish woman with an Indigenous Aunty named Kay. At first she would have the audience believe that she was Indigenous herself, but the truth eventually comes out to a Turkish woman that she rescues named Ela (played by Ayten Ulusoy). In turn they keep each other company by singing traditional songs and eventually manage to escape the flood in a makeshift boat. They too, by some strange coincidence, end up at the same abandoned dance hall as all the other women.
While all of this flood action is taking place, in the seating bank behind the audience, is a woman called Kelly (played by Samantha Bond) who is telling a different yet parallel story. She is a friend of Aphrodite’s daughter and is recounting her experience of being in the Boxing Day Tsunami. At first it is not obvious to the audience who she is, what she is talking about, and how it connects to the play we have come to see. But eventually it all links together.
Although there were parts of Night Breakfast that did not work for me on a theatrical level – the real women’s images screened on the back wall and not the front, the magical coming together of the two groups of women, and the tsunami story being told - I think these aspects can be forgiven. Ultimately with a play like this it is not so much the theatrics that need to be seen, but the stories of the women that need to be heard.
Warning: Don’t go to this play on an empty stomach.
WHAT: NIGHT BREAKFAST
WHERE: LA MAMA THEATRE
WRITTEN BY: MERRILEE MOSS
DIRECTED BY: LYNNE ELLIS