As a self-proclaimed ‘feminist immersive dining experience’, An Evening of Meat is unashamedly provocative – the image of a scantily-clad woman under the title ‘meat’ suggests a challenging of the idea of women as ‘possessions’, something animal-related, almost bestial. And while the evening itself does touch on these aspects, its never really certain what the message of the experience is.
The main confusion stems from the fact that one can’t really see what the team are actually trying to do, and therefore it’s never quite clear whether they’ve failed or succeeded. Entering the space, four women clad in Chinese-inspired embroidery are lying on the tables before our first course of food, allowing viewers to gesture at, take photos of and eye their prone bodies. This section is an unbearably uncomfortable one, having four voiceless women subjected to the spectator’s gaze as a piece of food might is horrible – portraying them as something for consumption. And while this might have been a suitably dramatic start for an evening concerned with undermining this assumption, it doesn’t quite progress that way.
It doesn’t feel like there’s any statement, any challenge, any attempt to narrative to counteract the preconceptions in our minds when we enter the space. Very little consequently happens apart from the women slowly waking up, crawling around the table-tops in an animalistic manner with some beautiful abstract dance pieces in-between courses before standing up at the end. A subtle and nuanced feminist critique this is not – instead, it posits the women as something to be enjoyed, to entertain, to do everything that the evening might wish to fight against.
This is a shame as the meal itself is gorgeous, and the dancers hugely talented. Their interaction with the guests is never intimidating, and some make fast friends with certain diners. Climbing over tables, pouring water down some throats, establishing and re-establishing animal-esque hierarchies – it’s a good evening, but the piece lacks a central drive. Despite claiming that these performers are on a ‘journey’, leading them to the discovery that ‘No-one’s a piece of meat’, the actual truth is that the message isn’t quite that simple to decipher.