Ellie is living on her own in London, away from Mum in Leeds for the very first time. In
Funny, sweet and not too heavy, Cauliflower is a show that feeds the soul.
Ellie (Leila Nashef) is a natural conversation starter, inviting latecomers into the room with the same casual warmth one would offer to a housemate returning home from work. An infectious sense of fun permeates every seam of this playful script, a joint effort between Nashef and co-writer and director Jemima Foxtrot that fuses original music, spoken word and informal chatter with the audience. I am sitting on the front row and can’t help but smile back as we gossip about the dishes that ‘give us joy’ (go on, everyone has one).
To reach the crux of the show, look no further than the title: the eponymous vegetable serves as both a reminder of Ellie’s favourite home-made dish and the cringeworthy endearment bestowed upon her as a young girl. These threads of cooking nostalgia and familial closeness continue to intertwine throughout the show, whether it’s a surprise phone call from home to check on her diet or a bittersweet recounting of that one failed attempt at recreating Mum’s famed cauliflower cheese. The strength of the bond between mother and daughter can almost be perceptibly felt, and the pivotal part that their love of food plays in this becomes a gentle critique of how our social media use has distorted that relationship with what we eat. One disarmingly candid observation, as Ellie reflects upon her mother’s new-found love of ‘clean eating’, has stayed with me: “our parents always cook for us, to help us grow… at what point did Mum want me to stop growing?”.
It’s a message to be taken with a pinch of salt, pun intended, as of course eating dumplings every day for dinner does not a healthy body make. Ellie also touches on the guilt associated with almost every food product, from palm oil to plastic packaging, and it would have been nice to unpack these moments a little further. However, in a world where it sometimes seems that the Insta-Fit meal preppers really do have the upper hand, it’s refreshing to spend an hour in the company of someone who passionately and personally believes in the happiness that can be found in breaking bread with loved ones, both literally and figuratively. Funny, sweet and not too heavy, Cauliflower is a show that feeds the soul. Catch it if you can.