Review: Did You Eat? (Greenside @ Infirmary Street)
A recipe for love handed down for generations
The idea of “love languages” seems to come in and out of fashion. Whenever someone eagerly brings up that theirs is quality time or physical touch, there is someone not far behind reminding you that the concept and its creator are rather problematic. But in Zoë Kim’s semi-autobiographical performance Did You Eat? love languages come from a very different place than some dodgy self-help book from the nineties. It comes from the dog-eared notebook she calls the “commandments of love”, which represents how material expressions of love have been handed down from mother to daughter for generations. But, as Kim’s life story tells, sometimes those rules can hurt more than they can help.
Kim switches between playing herself and playing her mother. Her depiction of her mother is quite dramatic, even comedic, and as herself she is decidedly understated. It creates a sense of distance and balance that means we learn as much about her mother as we do about her. Even when the things that she does and says to her daughter cause harm we still recognise her as a person rather than a problem. As the things that are damaging to her self-esteem, her sense of security, and her relationship with her parents build up you don’t realise the extremity of the story being told until near the end. It is well worth watching for Scottish audiences who aren’t familiar with the challenges faced by Korean and Korean-American women in a society that values sons far more highly than daughters.
Photo Credit: Scott Mendenko
When she is playing herself, however, her persona ends up drifting too far from the story. Her delivery is unusual, more akin to a TED talk than a theatre performance. She accompanies it with interpretive movement, spelling out each beat of the story which quickly starts to feel stiff. As emotional as her experiences are, Kim misses out on the theatrical potential of telling her own story by putting too much effort into the literal imagery of its details rather than through emotive storytelling.
Even so, her performance ends with a startlingly strong monologue as her mother expressing her pain at realising she hasn’t loved her daughter the way she wanted to be loved. It is an outstanding final scene that makes the rest of the performance feel like context. For many audiences, this will be enough to make up for the bland delivery of earlier scenes, as will the play’s honest approach to themes of sexism and generational trauma. To think of Did You Eat? as a meal, the uneven storytelling is unlikely to leave you feeling full, but the final dish makes it a meal that will be hard to forget. Three stars.
Whispers from the Crowd: I was tearing up within the first 7 minutes. She's a brilliant performer, so honest and captivating.
Did You Eat? will play at Greenside @ Infirmary Street until August 26th