The binding properties of bacon grease have never been better emphasised than in Mem Morrison's Leftovers. This performance is about cafes, performed in cafes, with cafe food for everybody. It is intimate, cosy; a cooked breakfast at 6pm, sitting elbow to elbow, bound together by sausage, bacon, eggs and beans. Leftovers is Morrison's autobiographical performance about growing up in a Muslim, Turkish Cypriot family running the Sunderland Cafe in South East London. It's a journey through a childhood filled with food paraphernalia, language barriers and a strong sense of not quite fitting in; it is also an act of remembrance for an immigrant community's efforts to settle in a strange country.
A performance about cafes presented in a genuine cafe immediately brings audiences into Morrison's world, just by taking a seat at a formica table under fluorescent lights. Recorded interviews with Turkish Cypriot cafe owners play as cooked breakfasts are served; the clatter of cutlery on china mingles with evocative stories of Anglicised nicknames, misspelt menus, the pressures of family business - “never work with your wife!” - and friction between ebullient Turkish diners and meek English regulars.
After the plates are cleared, Morrison performs his monologue, walking between tables, distributing Turkish delight and specially printed napkins. Anecdotes about being a novelty Englishman in Cyprus but erroneously a 'Paki' at school are interspersed with observations: he ate shepherds pie and custard during the day, kebabs and hellimi in the evening. He longed to be blonde and blue-eyed in an Aryan log cabin featured on a biscuit tin. A few interjections in Turkish, some traditional music and dancing invite laughs from Turkish audience members; baffled non-Turkish audiences are reminded they can only look in from the outside on these experiences, no matter how sympathetic they may be.
What we eat and with whom we eat define who we are, so tucking into a full English breakfast immediately labels us as someone who can accept the English love of baked beans, for example. We love them or we learn to love them as part of 'Englishness'. Equally important in Morrison's performance is choosing who to feed, and what we are willing to feed them. It's a tough but defining dilemma for a Muslim cafe owner committing to a business based on bacon. As one woman said on the voice recording: ‘This is our last chance to fit in;' it was generally agreed in Leftovers that these cafe owners fitted in the best way they knew how: Turkish people show love by feeding people. This cafe story, served hot at the table, is a love story, for a culture, a history, a way of life unique and now fading.
Leftovers will be performed in Hackney tomorrow and again at the Edinburgh Festival, and has been performed in independent cafes around the country. However, the pool of non-chain, family-run cafes are running out. Catch this piece of unique theatre while you still can; it's the most satisfying full 'English' breakfast available.
By Hazel Tsoi and Charlotte Pedersen. Image © Manuel Vason.
Leftovers, Thursday 12 July, Kingsland Cafe, 6pm and Wednesday 20 to Monday 25 August at Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh. For more information about the performance, go to the Artsadmin website here.