it’s dark and delicious, silky and smooth, but the story behind chocolate may not be quite as tempting, as the creators of the latest Mikron Theatre show, Pure, have discovered.
On the eve of the play’s premiere, artistic director Marianne McNamara explains: “It wasn’t until we started looking into it that I realised what goes on in order to create chocolate. It made me stop and think about what I was buying.”
In the run-up to rehearsals members of the Marsden company visited the Elland-based wholefood supplier Suma to learn more about chocolate production.
“We met a woman who goes out to Ghana to visit the chocolate workers who work with the Fair Trade company Devine,” added Marianne. “She told us you can’t have masses and masses of cocoa trees together, they have to be planted among other trees, like mangoes, and everything has to be individually cropped. Then they wrap the cocoa in banana skins to rot and leave it out in the sun. There are all sorts of stages in the production that we had no idea about and didn’t look particularly appetising.
“We also didn’t realise how unethical a lot of the industry is.... children working all day and not going to school. Even if a product is described as Fair Trade it’s not necessarily better than one that isn’t because manufacturers can use the logo if a certain percentage in their range is Fair Trade – so that doesn’t necessarily mean the bar you are eating is Fair Trade.”
Pure, written by new playwright Richard Vergette, is a time-travelling story that visits the pioneers of commercial chocolate-making 150 years ago and then fast forwards to the present day and the re-launch of a favourite chocolate bar by a corporate food giant.
The play questions the actions of big business and asks if success always smells sweet. Richard says that while he enjoyed researching the play and eating chocolate he uncovered less palatable truths about the industry. He explained: “Discovering that child and slave labour are still features of chocolate production made me realise that while I wanted the play to celebrate chocolate, I couldn’t ignore the darker elements of its story either.”
Mikron is premiering the show at the Square Chapel Centre for the Arts in Halifax on Saturday, May 28, at 7.30pm, and then performing it at Stirley Community Farm in Berry Brow, Huddersfield, the following afternoon (May 29) at 1pm (bring your own chairs).
It is the company’s second show this year and follows Canary Girls, the story of two sisters who work in a munitions factory during WWI. The two shows will tour the country until October, with the cast transported on the company’s historic narrowboat Tyseley, which celebrates her 80th birthday this year.
Mikron specialises in producing new work, often by emerging writers, and has a loyal following. Two venues for Pure are already sold out.
Marianne says: “The play is very funny but also makes a serious point. If you are going to go to these dark places and question what is happening then you have to have humour as well. There’s a song in the show, La Cote D’Ivoire, about chocolate farmers, that really makes you think.”
Mikron plays have looked at everything from fish and chip shops to the dairy industry. Next year Mikron will be performing plays on the themes of the lifeboat charity RNLI and Youth Hostels Association, which Marianne describes as “great British institutions that are dear to people’s hearts.”
Ticket details for Pure at the Square Chapel are available from www.squarechapel.co.uk or 01422 349422. The Stirley Farm performance is unticketed. A collection will be taken afterwards.