BAC, London SW11
Opened 4 July
, 2007

Chef Frank Byrne (James Staddon) is a driven man. He follows a kind of culinary purism, refusing to mix flavours modishly and describing his dishes as "irreproachable", but also under pressure to obtain and then retain his restaurant's third Michelin star, to create a range of ready meals that don't simply prostitute his name and so on. He grows edgier and edgier throughout the 75 minutes of this play staged by theimaginarybody [sic], but since it begins with a Sunset Boulevard-style floating corpse, we already know Frank's fate.

Joel Horwood's script has some nice conceits, although occasionally it overplays its hand, as when Frank gasps, "I love it when different flavours come together" at the climax of a sex act. But the production's deficiencies are exacerbated by the classic "Edinburgh success feels dwarfed in London" syndrome: where we almost felt as if we were in Frank's kitchen in last summer's studio venue, BAC's main house is a harder space to fill in terms both of audience and performance. Here, when we watch the cast of five in a frenzy of culinary preparation, it is easier to observe with detachment their theatre-machine mime sequences to a soundtrack of beats that appears to have been compiled from samples of various food-preparation noises.

The setting too 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 its emotional heft. The piece seems to rely on our collective grounding in "food porn" television and the media status of the likes of Gordon Ramsay for its basic interest. For at bottom it is not an unfamiliar story: man sacrifices life for career, aided by drugs. Frank's early remark to a new recruit, "You'll need your coca leaves and amphetamines now", is the first of several explicit references that make clear that his degeneration is in large part the result of cocaine paranoia. I was reminded throughout of Hollywood producer Julia Phillips' memoir of her coke-addled downfall, its title especially apt in this context: You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2007

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage