To the Commercial Environmental Health Service
Public Protection Division
159 Upper Street
London N1 1RE
Dear Sir or Madam,
We understand you are responsible for investigating complaints relating to unhygienic practices in the London Borough of Islington.
We would like to draw your attention to the decidedly unsafe manner of chicken preparation flagrantly occurring on stage in Frank McGuinness’s dreadfully titled There Came A Gypsy Riding at the Almeida Theatre.
The chance to see Dames Eileen Atkins and Imelda Staunton* drew us to visit your borough. Given the subject matter of a family grieving for a son who had taken his own life, we were prepared for a difficult evening.
But we were shocked by the irresponsible portrayal of poultry preparation by the Dame-in-waiting which – in our humble opinion – invited only further misery for this Irish family in the future.
While preparing a chicken for dinner Miss Staunton was seen to pick up a bottle of olive oil, touch various work surfaces and props and even plunge her fingers into a jar of bay leaves – all without washing her hands once. This in spite of designer Robert Jones having thoughtfully supplied a fully operational tap in the kitchen set (very impressive, we thought).
As you will know, the salmonella bacteria attacks the stomach and intestines. In more serious cases, the bacteria may enter the lymph tracts, which carry water and protein to the blood, and the blood itself. Salmonella is a nasty bug which can cause diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. Indeed, we in the audience were close to exhibiting these symptoms, although this may have been the body’s natural response to the mawkish sentimentality of the melodrama portrayed on the stage.
Not that this will be of direct relevance to your investigation, but to be honest, we found this food preparation scene rather distracting as Miss Staunton was simultaneously acting “grief” at this point, but the dramatic potential of the scene was diminished for us by anxieties about kitchen cleanliness and the use of real knives.
We trust you will pay a visit to the Almeida promptly to inform director Michael Attenborough of these simple rules for reducing the risk of salmonella:
- Always wash your hands with soap after going to the toilet and before preparing food. Dry them on a dry towel.
- Wash your hands when you switch from preparing one type of food to another, eg vegetables to meat. This helps prevent the exchange of bacteria between different ingredients.
- Kitchen utensils must be properly washed with soap and water before use with another type of food. Again, this stops bacteria being exchanged.
- Use different cutting boards and knives for preparing different foods.
- Change the dishcloth every day. Wash dishcloths in water that is at least 60oC.
- Store food in the refrigerator. Meat, poultry and fish must not be left out of the fridge for long periods.
While you are at it, perhaps you could also ask him to cast his eyes over the golden theatrical rules below and share them with writer Frank McGuinness where appropriate:
- People should never sing on stage unless in a musical. And they must NEVER sing the title of the play (again: unless in a musical). Never, ever sing Irish folk songs under any circumstances whatsoever.
- Do not have actors recite poems. Write your own poetry if poetry is absolutely essential (although it is difficult to imagine such circumstances).
- Do not have your actors stand at the edge of the stage wistfully sniffing the air to indicate the play is set by the coast.
- NEVER use the noise of taped seagulls for the same purpose.
- Do not use uncooked poultry as a prop.
Thank you. We trust that your intervention will not only save lives, but many hours of indigestible Irish cliches for Islington theatregoers.
The West End Whingers
PS: In case this helps your case, this is what the WEW entourage thought of the play:
* It can only be a matter of time