"Mela invado" by Tomaso Marcolla
© Copyright 2006 – All Rights Reserved


BITES first premiered world-wide in London in 2005. Following its debut in the UK, director Elena Vannoni premiered the play in Rome and Berlin in 2008; she is now about to present it for the first time to the American audience in association with Kay Adshead’s company, Mama Quilla.


This very topical political text by British author Kay Adshead is served up in the form of a seven-course meal, using a very poetical and striking language that makes it edible but not exactly ‘digestible’. Each dish narrates a barbarous, inhumane story. The simplicity of the lyric poetry mixed with pungent sarcasm unifies the seven courses into one big feast. The actors, each one playing several roles, start off on the floor of a restaurant. The restaurant itself is a haunted setting, a place in ruins reminiscent of an already-devoured banquet, an almost lunar landscape consisting of decades upon decades of decomposing leftovers.

The play is very surreal and poetic, depicting the miseries of life as a ‘minority’ and the human rights issues they raise. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic restaurant, where the actors play the roles of hostesses, chefs, and waiters. The meal consists of seven courses, each one telling a story from Afghanistan to Texas, passing through Guantanamo.

The setting is Brecht-ish: the actors never leave the scene and the stage is created by the chairs and the tables of the restaurant. The roles change from course to course, but there is a thin, connecting line linking all of the episodes and characters together.


In her play Bites, which premiered in 2005 at the Bush Theatre in London, Adshead brings out the contradictions between the rich and opulent West – typified by the Texan cowboy – and the countries suffering from global inequalities – in this case represented by Afghanistan. In a series of short scenes, with both themes and characters running through them, the author contrasts the bitter life of the poor with the excesses of the rich. A big indicator of Kay Adshead's ambition can be found in the two inspirations behind the play: first, a woman from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan; and secondly, the playwright's own experiences in Texas since 9/11.

“Once we drove the 750 miles from Houston to El Paso through the Chihuahua desert. Skeletons of little diners poked through the yellow grit advertising Coca-Cola from yore. These became the inspiration for my play Bites. America spoon-feeds us the myth and we swallow it whole,” explains Adshead.

Geographically speaking, the play crosses the globe, moving from Afghanistan to Texas via Guantanamo Bay. The first course is brought down directly from the mountains in Afghanistan: a soup made from “stars and dreams” prepared by some women trying to survive the cruel reality in which they live.

The gastronomic journey then proceeds to gluttonous Texas, where the Mexican help finds herself experiencing a humiliation close to that of the hog on the spit. At the end, after having tasted various meals, the climax comes in the form of an explosive dessert in an America that is experiencing an apocalyptic future, where the poor and exploited finally take their little revenge.


I started to write Bites after hearing a woman from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) speak to the Fabian Society in London. As a liberal woman, I was astonished at my ignorance about Afghanistan. While our lives since the 1970s had been moving forward, their lives had been moving backwards. Women who had been doctors or university lecturers were now forced to stay at home, under pain of the most terrible punishment or even death.

At the same time, I was living for part of the year in Texas and was almost as surprised at what I found there. I was expecting lives out of the iconic TV series Dallas and instead I found Mexico's cousin—a life closer to the developing world than I had imagined, in the richest country in the world.

I was particularly fascinated by the power of the Second Baptist Church in the Lone Star State and at the discovery that they were the largest funders of Republican America. Without wishing to appear trite, I saw some analogies between American religious fundamentalism and its attitude towards women, and Afghanistan under the Taliban (and, unfortunately, the newly reconstructed, westernized Afghanistan).

Moving from the "greatest" democracy in the planet to the newest, Bites takes us back to Afghanistan via Texas. In The Last Diner at the end of the world, ravaged by war, a menu of love, death and revenge is served by the hired help. Seven courses make for a poetic feast of universal tales looking back to the forgotten war and forward to a nightmarish future.

Elena Vannoni's production of my play is visually witty and darkly intelligent, capturing the (hopefully) timeless and universal essence of the tales. She directs her talented and versatile cast boldly, and with intuition and flair. I loved the total theatre of her production, which is beautiful, haunting, emotionally raw, and brave. She is an exceptionally skilled and sensitive interpreter of my work.