Sabrina Mahfouz’s talent as a poet shines through in her latest play,
New writing of this calibre is rare. Mahfouz’s command of language is by turns shocking, astonishing, and breathtaking, each sentence perfectly calibrated and each pause judiciously timed.
This chef knows only too well what it’s like when life deals one blow after another: to discover your true passion only for it to be taken from you, to be constantly abandoned, to be a woman in a man’s world, to be a woman in prison. There are plenty of ways to die and yet still be alive, as her drug-addicted boyfriend once told her. Yet, while Chef has many dark moments, and Anouka recounts the hardships of this young woman’s life with a raw intensity that is often painful to watch, Mahfouz balances this with humour, joy, and incredible beauty.
Anouka’s expressions of glee and sheer delight as she speaks about the food she used to prepare are infectious; her face lights up as she invites us to think about the simple perfection of a peach. What we eat and our relationship with food says much about who we are. Chef reminds us of this as Mahfouz’s language assaults the senses. Food is a powerful metaphor and vivid image throughout – from uneaten, congealing takeaway to a voice that is described as ‘sweeter than Manuka honey on iced mango’.
Chef offers an interesting perspective on the lives of inmates at a time when prisons are overcrowded, suffering budget cuts and restrictions on books. Mahfouz explores ideas of freedom and friendship. Even behind bars, opportunities can be found and the women still hold tight to their dreams, however simple. One prisoner’s desire to be known and liked for herself is particularly poignant, hinting as it does at a lifetime of hurt – common to many of these women.
New writing of this calibre is rare. Mahfouz’s command of language is by turns shocking, astonishing, and breathtaking, each sentence perfectly calibrated and each pause judiciously timed. Combined with Anouka’s brilliant turn as the chef, this is an outstanding piece of theatre.