Thursday, 20 August 2020

Review: Turkey Sausage Roll (Karen Cogan)

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HOME, Manchester

In this post, I’m continuing my blog reviews of the Homemakers series of commissions from Home, Manchester, a programme of digitally-accessible creative content that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. This post is a review of Turkey Sausage Roll by Irish actor and writer Karen Cogan. The radio version of this review will be going out this Saturday on Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, but, as always, here’s the blog version…


Turkey Sausage Roll is a short film, written and directed by Karen Cogan, which is a co-commission by HOME and the RADA Festival. Unlike the other films from the Homemakers series that I’ve reviewed so far, Turkey Sausage Roll isn’t explicitly about either COVID-19 or the lockdown. The format is definitely dictated by the lockdown restrictions – of course – but the piece doesn’t make an explicit response to the pandemic. But it is about death. And isolation.

Karen Cogan’s film is a monologue, performed by Faoileann Cunningham. It’s shot in an empty pub (with some occasional cutaway shots of Cunningham outside), and our focus is entirely on the performer throughout. Cunningham’s character is going to tell us a story, and it’s a story about when she had a very bad day. Cunningham’s unnamed character begins by telling us about a smell. A smell like fish, or is it someone cooking tripe? In the venerable tradition of theatrical (and televised) monologues, Turkey Sausage Roll hooks us in with something odd, mundane and slightly vague, before taking us on a journey to more profound territory. And what a compelling journey it is too.


The unnamed narrator’s bad day is the funeral of her best friend, which she is attending in the (not altogether welcome) company of her girlfriend Frankie and her Aunty Una. I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that this is a story about grief, but it’s a story about grief that involves the narrator clutching a greasy turkey sausage roll in one hand (from Aunty Una’s purple Tupperware) and swigging ‘gin from a tin’ (that she’s extracted from where it was hidden in her jeggings) in the other. By telling the story of the day of the funeral itself, Cogan’s script explores difficult territory – there’s a brutality to the grief on show here, of course, but she also perfectly captures the numbness and surrealness of that moment of goodbye. Turkey Sausage Roll isn’t raw, but rather balances on a knife-edge between detachment and pain.

Cogan’s script is conveyed wonderfully by Faoileann Cunningham, whose performance had me gripped. For much of the piece – aside from those quick cutaways I mentioned before – we are focused almost entirely on Cunningham’s face. She isn’t made-up, and her hair is tied back tightly in a ponytail, emphasizing the sense of nakedness and vulnerability in her performance. She moves through the emotional stages of the story with precision and style, but also in a way that makes the whole story both plausible and deeply sympathetic. There are times when Cunningham’s character seems incredibly young, tapping into the deep and implacable emotions of childhood; however, as we find out, she is also a woman on the verge of definitively growing up, and there are points at which she is, as the verse goes, forced to put aside childish things and see, through a glass (or a tin of gin) darkly.


I think one of the things that really grabbed me about Turkey Sausage Roll is the way that Cogan’s script, while very much focused on a short and specific moment in time, is able to conjure a bigger story and a whole relationship – despite the fact that the relationship has ended before the monologue even begins. It’s very easy to imagine the narrator and her best friend, and some details were particularly vivid (and some of the more off-beat anecdotes were wonderfully told). Also vivid was Aunty Una, a character who hovers around the periphery ‘wearing a purple skirt with a matching jacket like it’s 1987’ and proffering the eponymous meat-filled pastries. Dismissed by the narrator as a frustrating older woman with strange taste and a penchant for aggressively singing Ave Maria at funerals, Aunty Una appears more like a spectre of older womanhood – what happens when quirkiness reaches its autumnal years. I couldn’t help but see a parallel between the narrator’s tale of her best friend’s ‘awful’ ruby ring, and Aunty Una’s inexplicable parrot earrings.

Now, although I’ve said that this piece is not a direct response to COVID, it is a piece of socially-distanced lockdown art, and this does have an impact. Cunningham performs entirely solo in an empty (presumably closed) pub. I’m in two minds as to whether this setting really works for the piece. On the one hand, the setting evokes the feeling of isolation and emptiness one might feel after a wake, when the other funeral attendees have gone home. On the other, this seems to belie the tentative conclusion of the piece – the narrator is telling a story that ends with some sense of connection, but in an entirely disconnected way. This is probably an unavoidable effect of the restrictions placed on production, but I found it interesting the way the backdrop combines with the final lines of the monologue to leave the audience pondering what might happen next, or what message they might take from the story.

Turkey Sausage Roll is a short film – just over 23 minutes running time – but I could easily imagine this being adapted as a stage performance. Although the short film format is used well, and the editing by Adam Lansberry is slick and well-handled, this piece encourages us to focus almost entirely on character and story.


Overall, Turkey Sausage Roll is a very human story, told and performed with charm and style. It’s painfully sad at times, but also really funny at others. I’d definitely recommend you check this one out. It’s quite different from the other Homemakers pieces I’ve watched so far, which should give you an idea of how varied and diverse the material in the series is.

Turkey Sausage Roll is available to view via the HOME website until 31st December 2020. Please visit the HOME website for more information or to book tickets.

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