Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August, 2006
*** / ***

Various genres of television coverage now seem to be conceived entirely for prurience, and are often described as "property porn", "food porn" etc. Food, staged by theimaginarybody [sic], relies to an extent on our collective grounding in this culture for its basic interest. Protagonist Frank (the ever-fine Sean Campion) is a driven man. He is aesthetically and ethically driven by a kind of culinary purism, refusing to mix flavours modishly so that he can describe his dishes as "irreproachable", but also under pressure to maintain his place in the national food culture: to obtain and then retain his restaurant's third Michelin star, to create a range of ready meals that don't prostitute his name and so on. He grows edgier and edgier – in fact, it looks not unlike cocaine paranoia. Joel Horwood's script has some nice conceits and turns of phrase, although occasionally it overplays its hand. The dramatic setting, though, is a mixed blessing: there is no dramatic reason why one needs to have bought into contemporary foodism in order to engage with Frank's tragedy, but as a non-participant in the culture I nevertheless felt somewhat excluded from the emotional heft of the play.

Emotional heft is largely missing from Evelyne de la Chenelière's Strawberries in January. It's a four-way love tangle, with each party reinventing him- or herself and attempting to refashion at least one of the others in the process. Roxana Silbert's production is light and amusing, as is the play in Rona Munro's translation; with the right marketing it could become the new Art. Frankly, this is my problem. After Art, Heroes and now this, I am beginning to wonder if I will ever again see a contemporary play from the French which is other than a 90-minute confection lightly dusted with emotional and psychological truisms. An unreasonable prejudice, I know, especially since Strawberries originates from Québec rather than France. No doubt there are several counter-examples elsewhere on the Fringe this year. Well, then, I should probably get searching.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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