Hunger started with an image of a helium balloon; as it slowly drops to the ground, someone rises and floats away, the two connected as an invisible counterweight.
I knew this image took place in a kitchen and that the person floating away was doing so because they had lost a lot of blood.
Blood and guts and the body are recurring themes in my work over the past year. I’m not sure what this means, even on a pop-psychology sort of level, so I assume I’ll keep writing about these things until I figure out why.
Hunger places seventeen-year-old Sam in a commercial kitchen that is also a dystopia. It’s a world of total loneliness and disconnection and he as a kitchen hand is desperate for approval and kindness from the head chef.
I was interested in writing about a world I knew nothing about – a busy commercial kitchen. I spent some time reading blogs of professional chefs to try and get an idea of the way they spoke and what their day-to-day life is like. What I read was people who, in their quest to make the best food and become the most popular chef, ended up living an insular life on the fringes of society by working very long and very odd hours. A blog by a chef in New York gave me a great starting point: “a life of broken dreams, broken lives and living in the moment. No past, no present, just ‘get it out there’ and make sure it’s HOT.”
I would make Sam’s dystopian kitchen a closed, timeless, sort of self-perpetuating system where nothing but getting the food out mattered – not even bleeding to death!
As Sam cooks on the production line, he realises he has cut himself and has dripped blood into one of the dishes. The head chef doesn’t notice and serves the dish to restaurant customers without Sam able to stop him. The customers applaud the food and soon the whole restaurant wants Sam’s dish. Aware that it’s his blood that has made the food so desirable, Sam secretly leaks more and more of his blood into the dishes, his reward being affection from the head chef, something he has never had before, possibly from anyone.
With Hunger, I chose to write about death in a blunt way by showing a death on stage. Sam ultimately sacrifices his life for what he sees as his only opportunity for approval and human connection and thus dies satisfied. He dies outside of the kitchen and its self-perpetuating system – his death is of little importance and the hellish world of the kitchen will carry on uneffected.
There are three worlds in the play: the dystopian kitchen, the bleached, calm and almost forbidden world of the restaurant and the alfresco dining area, a sort of fantasy escape world where Sam goes to die.
Sam and the head chef’s is the only relationship in the play and it is a very utilitarian one.
Sam speaks to the head chef for the duration of the monologue, although most of the conversation exists in his head and only a fraction is actually said aloud. We get the idea that Sam has a lot of these one-way conversations with his boss. Maybe he has conversations – real or imagined – with other people outside of the play, but this is the one that matters.
For me, Hunger is a play of images and rhythms: I hope that line-by-line I’ve somewhat captured the sense of urgency and mania of a commercial kitchen and that the images are a truthful albeit unrealistic way of portraying death.
Hunger is one of ten monologues from The Voices Project 2012: The One Sure Thing, currently running at atyp in Sydney. It is also included in The Voices Project, which is available for purchase from Currency Press.