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"The Most Democratic of Foods!": Reviewing 'Clyde’s' at Donmar Warehouse

With films and tv shows such as The Bear, Boiling Point and The Menu dominating our screens, it's no surprise that the culinary arts take to the stage. Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s at Donmar Warehouse follows four ex-convicts hustling away in a Pennsylvania sandwich shop, trying to forget the past and make ends meet, all while at the mercy of their ex-con boss, Clyde.

Giles Terera as Montrellous and Patrick Gibson as Jason in 'Clyde's'. Photo by Marc Brenner.

I first became aware of Clyde’s after reading Nottage’s 2015 play Sweat. Sweat centres itself around two ex-convicts, a parole officer and three childhood friends in a bar in Reading, Pennsylvania. Those who are familiar with Sweat and Clyde’s will recognise Jason, played by Patrick Gibson, as a recurring character in both. While it is not necessary to have seen Sweat before Clyde’s, it is a nice recall and offers exposition to the whereabouts of his character. Nottage concerns herself with the working class and marginalised communities who are left to resort to extreme measures for their safety and survival. She examines the USA’s penitentiary system and its failed effort of rehabilitation. With the food industry being one of the few to offer those formerly incarcerated a new chance, the sandwich shop acts as a gateway from where the characters have been to where they are going.

With nerves, I settled into my seat at Donmar Warehouse wondering how I would manage the intensity of 1 hour and 40 minutes (with no interval) about the topic of ex-convicts in a sandwich shop. However, what I left with was an introspective and comedic play about the importance of dreaming and the joys of creating. Early in the play we see the animosity between the workers, as the new guy Jason (Patrick Gibson) comes in and is immediately teased and laughed at by the comedic duo of Letitia (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo) and Rafael (Sebastien Orozco). Their lively banter keeps the stage electric, which is equally balanced by heartwarming and tender moments shared between the two.

Throughout the play, there's a running bit between the employees where they call out the ingredients of the luxury sandwich they wish to make. However, it goes beyond a culinary pursuit and becomes a form of self expression; at its core, it is an allegory to dream bigger.

It is Giles Terera’s performance as Montrellous at the centre of this, a man shrouded in mystery whose focus is on elevating those around him as the only one cultivating respect from Clyde. He wants them to look beyond where they are in life, look beyond the ingredients surrounding them in the kitchen, and create something new, just for themselves. Montrellous has unwavering belief in the potential of his fellow younger employees to propel above the situations they are in. He declares one of his sandwiches as “The most democratic of foods," asking the others to look at it as a metaphor. Yet this idea falls apart when Clyde walks into the kitchen; she just wants her workers to get on with making the sandwiches so they can collect their paychecks. She demands respect as well as fear, and instils that every one of them is replaceable.

In one of the penultimate scenes of the play we see the employees stand up to Clyde in a refusal to add relish to a sandwich that does not need it. We see Clyde finally break as each person refuses to help her. Her voice raises and she begins applying the relish herself in a messy fashion using her hands to spread it. The importance of this scene is not placed on Clyde and her reaction, but Jason’s. We see his growth as he watches on in horror at Clyde spreading the sauce with her hands, something you see him do himself towards the beginning of the play. It shows how far he has grown in his journey in the kitchen.

Overall Clyde’s is a play that excels in character driven drama and emotion, asking each person to look beyond the situation they have found themselves in. It is not about the sandwich, but the thought that goes into it and the process that helps make it. It is about daring to dream!

See this play before it's too late (and make sure you eat beforehand!) Tickets are available via the link below:


Edited by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.