Tea Party – an appreciation by Michael Punter.
Stephanie Fawbert’s Tea Party is a beautifully-realised evocation of childhood ritual.
What strikes the viewer is the extraordinary contrast between activity – concisely realised in neat strokes with clear instances of scoffing, gulping, unorthodox cleaning and helping-yourself – and points of serenity and calm.
The bright table and its line of diners draws the eye rightward to the strangely-spectral girl at the end, sort-of at the head of the table. Is she bemused, alienated or simply not hungry? It’s as though it all disagrees with her somehow.
Indeed, is she really there at all, or a memory of some other ritual, from a time when children were less-seen and less-heard? Perhaps she’s the original, dark-haired Alice in Wonderland, exiled from the Mad Hatter’s table and wandering over to this one. Alice always did take great interest in matters of eating and drinking…
Like all exciting pictures, it wants us to imagine, and we are all welcome to the party. Fondant fancy, anyone?
Michael Punter, playwright.
Thoughts on the Teaparty as a ritual- Stephanie Fawbert
The ritual of the teaparty , univeral in the west, is an early acting out of the key human ritual of eating together, a sort of nascent dinner-party without the manners.
From when they are very young, children have clear expectations of key events to take place at the table of a birthday tea party… the table is decorated, the food is very particular, as is the costume, the best clothes and the pointed party hat.The niceties of learnt behaviour in older children do not exist in younger children. Instead, there is a tension, a competitiveness that is bare faced. No offering of fairy cakes here – just an urgent reaching and grabbing of hula hoops, grapes, carrot sticks and sausage rolls.
The children’s faces are serious. There is little conversation. They look around at each other as they eat the party food (concocted by multinationals especially for them). They may not be chatty, but they are content. The ritual is progressing as it should and after all, eating treats demands concentration.
Then we come to the moment in the ritual of magic and wonder – the presentation of the cake. The adult is presenting a glowing sugar manifestation of their love, lit with candles, burning just for their child. It is public manifestation, acknowledged and approved of by a child’s peers group which secures a child’s place in this group.
It is why parents fork out wads of money for their child’s party, why they stress out over cupcakes, bouncy castles and party bags. For wrapped up within this ritual is the universal truth of human kind – that we are interdependent, intensely social animals that need interaction throughout our lives.
This birthday tea party ritual helps a child to begin this social journey.