Writer Mia Jerome talks about her show ‘Rice & Peas’, a West Indian dining experience produced by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch to take place at Metal Culture, Southend-On-Sea
Post World War II Britain, migrants from the commonwealth nations were invited to live and work here in an effort to help rebuild the country in response to the consequential labour shortage, 1948 marking the beginnings of a time period whereby migrants would go on to help start shaping a multi-cultural Britain, as migrants from Jamaica embarked on an unpredictable journey on the Empire Windrush, concluding at Tilbury Dock, Essex. A new chapter for all, with the hopes of establishing better lives for themselves, as well as providing for their families, the harsh realities of having to assimilate to a social and political climate not as welcoming would become clear. Migrants from various other Caribbean nations following suit and facing the same realities. Exploring this familiar tale of migration, writer Mia Jerome presents Rice & Peas, produced by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and due to play at Metal Culture, Southend-on-Sea from the 28th to 30th April. Looking back at couple Figgy and Edith’s last meal together in Grenada, 1948 before Figgy leaves for Britain, Rice & Peas boasts a specially crafted Caribbean menu by celebrated chef Jon Bentham – the title of course alluding to the West Indian staple, the show rooting all in the couple’s cultural heritage. Ahead of the show, Mia tells us more about exploring the story further, being supported by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Creative Estuary Commissions and working with Jon Bentham to realise the menu!
Hi Mia, your show Rice & Peas will play at Metal Culture, Southend-on-Sea on from 28th to 30th April. How are you feeling ahead of the experience?
I am really excited! I can’t wait to share this piece with audiences and receive feedback. It is a work in progress, so it’s important for me to hear peoples thoughts so that I can continue to develop and shape the piece.
Rice and Peas is a West Indian dining experience looking back at couple Figgy and Edith’s last meal together in Grenada, 1948, before Figgy boards The Empire Windrush heading to England. It isn’t until two years later until they’re finally reunited. What inspired you to explore their story further?
This story is loosely based on my own family history, and it is a story that I have wanted to tell for a long time. It wasn’t until I began to share this story with others verbally that I realised the situation that happened within my own family was not a unique one, and that gave me the drive to share it. Before I entered the arts industry, I worked in hospitality for many years. Telling the story in this way is a combination of my skill set, but also a way to honour my grandfather, who was an amazing chef. Sharing this story with food enables my audiences to really immerse themselves in the story.
The show has been produced by Queen’s Theatre, written and directed by yourself, the founder of Blouse and Skirt Company and forms part of Creative Estuary Co-commisions. How have you all worked together to realise the show?
The Queens Theatre have been very supportive of my development as an artist, Doug and Mathew have been great to turn to when I need advice. The funding was provided by Creative Estuary after they came to see the first stage of the R&D last year, in order for me to continue developing the project. Metal Culture also provided me with a residency to support the writing, and in turn have been very generous in providing the venue for the show. I am incredibly grateful for all of their support.
The menu has been specially designed by celebrated chef Jon Bentham. How have you worked together to realise this element of the show?
Lots of chatting and tasting! We chose the main course as it is the national dish of Grenada. Grenada is known as the spice island, so we tried to incorporate what grows there. We really wanted to work with flavours that give that authentic Caribbean taste. Furthermore, to ensure we create a sustainable show we decided to have a fully vegetarian menu with a vegan option.
What have you learned/taken away from working on the show?
The writing process has brought me closer to my grandparents, even though they are no longer here. It has made me really consider the choices that they made for their family.
What can audiences expect from the experience?
Audiences will come to celebrate ten years of Figgys restaurant being open, expect some delicious food, and be taken on a trip to the past and present.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the experience?
Hopefully, a love of Caribbean food and flavours! But I would also like them to understand the courage it took for so many to start over in a new country when they are not necessarily welcome. This is not just true of those of the Windrush generation. We are seeing so many being displaced by circumstances, such as war, and how difficult that can be to have families torn apart.