The Cold Buffet Preview Night Personal Review by Stephen Stokoe

The Cold Buffet Preview Night Personal Review by Stephen Stokoe

The Cold Buffet by Elijah Young

Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

5th October 2023

I was back at Live Theatre this evening for The Cold Buffet by local playwright and actor Elijah Young. Aaron of InNewcastle is officially reviewing the show on press night this coming Tuesday 10th October, however, I was keen to see this when time allowed and wanted to share my own personal review of the show for what was a preview night.

Live Theatre is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and The Cold Buffet is the jewel in the crown of a stunning season at this intimate and very welcoming venue on Newcastle’s quayside. 

The Cold Buffet follows the story of the McCarthy family through three distinct family occasion. The audience is welcomed first to the funeral of the patriarch of the family, John with his wife playing mournfully on the piano following a service to which all the extended family members are invited.

We meet his son, David, (Jim Kitson) who we learn has endured a distant relationship with his now late father. and his much younger girlfriend Ayeesha (Amara Karan) whose youthful exuberance and enthusiasm really lights up the stage whenever she is on. We also meet transgendered nephew Max(Beth Fletcher Morris) who is co-opted as de-facto photographer at all the events, David’s gay son, Ellis (Nick Blakeley) and the matriarch of the family, Evelyn (Jane Holman) who is never backward in coming forward to say what she thinks about all manner of matters. There is another unseen character, Martin, who is David’s brother and while he never makes an appearance certainly makes his non-presence felt with his behaviour and the way the family talk about him. 

Like many families, The McCarthy’s have their scandalous secrets and as the tensions rise the audience are made privy to some of them as this three-act play runs its course. 

The set for each of the acts is the buffet room set off from the actual celebrations of a funeral, a wedding, and a christening where the McCarthy family always have their get togethers. The is a very clever device which allows the audience to hear all the tension rising in the characters while still having a sense of being at the party. The lighting and sound are both very subtle and appropriate to the action taking place. There is also an upright piano on the stage which is utilised very effectively even before the lights go down to start act one. 

The thing that impressed me most about this moving, funny and emotional play is in the impressive way, playwright, Elijah Young, voices three generations of a disparate and dysfunctional family. As a viewer I really warmed to all of the characters for differing reasons even when some of them were acting quite obnoxiously. There is a nuance to the writing that really captures the turmoil each individual member of the McCarthy family is going through largely down to the fact that none of them can effectively communicate with each other.

This play is festooned with tasty comical and dry moments which takes the audience on a wonderful journey through several years of McCarthy drama but when the powerful elements of the narrative hit then you really know about them. 

There are moments in this play which really tugged on my heartstrings and I freely admit to shedding a tear or two towards the end of the production. Elijah is not afraid to tackle subjects such as infidelity, homosexuality, latent racism, family cohesion or mental health as he skilfully presents a family that I certainly recognise and on speaking to other members of the audience, they did too. 

The Cold Buffet is a triumph of skilled observation of multi generations of people, or story telling and it is a play with a great deal of heart – and quiche.

I was lucky enough to have a conversation with the author after the show and while there were things that he may change, this was in no way evident in the performance that I had the pleasure of seeing this evening at Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne.

I am loathed to single out anyone for specific praise as this is very much an ensemble piece and everyone plays their part magnificently, I do have to applaud Jane Holman for her beautifully rounded portrayal of the widow McCarthy. Her delivery was nuanced, never forced, and offered a proud and principled yet vulnerable and delusional matriarch that is very genuine but damaged all in one. A most impressive performance. 

The Cold Buffet by Elijah Young plays at Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne until 28th October and I cannot recommend it more highly. 

Tickets are on sale now at or from Box Office on (0191) 232 1232. 

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