thu 22/08/2019

Gastronauts, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs | reviews, news & interviews

Gastronauts, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Gastronauts, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Fusion of theatre and food makes for a (mostly) savoury experience

Food for thought: Justine Mitchell and Nathaniel Martello-White achieve culinary blast-off in `Gastronauts' Johan Persson

For increasing numbers of people, food is theatre, so what better time to combine the two into the slight, sweet, determinedly socially conscious evening that is Gastronauts? The Royal Court "happening" of sorts is catering to audiences of 60 per show during its sellout run. A devised piece that turns playgoers into diners while also asking them to question the ethics and ethos of food, the show in its questioning impulse seems the perfect antidote to festive-season excess. That said, some may be too busy pigging out on the crispy kale - please sir, may I have some more? - to give the underlying message undue thought. 

Turning playgoers into passengers on board a surreal journey that yokes together aspects of Blind Date, Animal Farm, and the cookery program of your choice, the piece starts by herding its public into an ante-room for a fluorescently coloured libation that promises something hallucinogenic - alas, no such luck. From there, we're ushered into the dining area and toward one of various tables, where the cast function triply as waiters, cabaret artistes, and resident provocateurs. (You're insensitive enough to ask for salmon? Think again!)

mammalian mode: the cast of GastronautsThose too timid to try the love bug salad (yes, really) at Archipelago restaurant in W1 can dip a toe into vaguely comparable fare with the chilli-infused locusts on order here, and there's a neat culinary trick involving profiteroles - or are they? Along the way we're prompted to reconsider the provenance and nutritional value (among multiple topics) of our food and to acknowledge the fact that no meal, however succulent, reaches us without exacting some kind of price. I mean, were you to find mortadella on the cheese trolley, might it put you off to learn that morte is the Italian word for death? Perhaps. But the point is less to make us grimace at what sits on the plate before us than to consider the place of whatever we ingest in, well, the food chain - and where our omniverous society fits into that, as well.

If this all sounds vaguely thesis-mongering when all you really want is soup (the evening's starter, by the way), the hectoring is mostly kept to a minimum so that the abiding inventiveness of the conceit can prevail. There's something delicious (or not, as the case may be) in finding Darwinian selection applied to the serving of a last-remaining cup of coffee, just as the notion of getting on one's high horse makes particular sense at such time as the cast embraces its inner mammal (pictured above). Food, of course, is sustaining, as well, and some of the play's lovelier passages equate cuisine with kindness, not just consumerism run riot.

Happy to see me? GastronautsSeveral of the dramatic shards are enticing enough to warrant expansion, though co-writers April De Angelis and Nessah Muthy (working with their expert director, Wils Wilson) have clearly taken on board the truism unknown to all too many American eateries that less is more. And if the cast seemed notably nervous on the first of two press nights, any hesitancy surely has to do with the infrequency, one assumes, with which most actors are called upon to knead dough in public or declare a state of emergency. As it is, the five performers (Andy Clark and Imogen Doel, pictured above, among them) constitute a likeable lot, both individually and together, and the de facto emcee Alasdair Macrae goes one better sporting an elaborate moustache that, in context, leaves you with wondering only one thing: is it edible? 

No meal, however succulent, reaches us without exacting some kind of price


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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