Fringe preview: Playing with our Food
Theatre addressing our obsession with nutrition
This article is from 2015.
In the rush to catch as many shows as possible, food is often the last thing on anyone’s mind during the Fringe. However, this year, several companies are offering up calorific feasts on the stage.
For breakfast, Clod Ensemble's production The Red Chair should hit the spot. There is music by Paul Clark, and a chance to sample some free food and whisky. Based on Scottish folk tales, and inspired by generations of worldly storytellers, from the Brothers Grimm to Gogol, The Red Chair is a dark tale of gluttony, focusing on a man who won't stop eating, his long-suffering wife and their 'inveesible child'.
Writer and performer Sarah Cameron says: 'The language of the story grew over time, forged its own path and was central in creating the world of The Red Chair. We get lots of feedback and audiences use words like 'rich', 'epic,' 'exuberant' and 'devour', so that indicates they feel sated by the piece.' She adds: 'We use the consumption of food as a metaphor and audiences are invited to interpret the metaphor for themselves.’ As for the actual food, she says mysteriously,'there are lots of evocations of food within the performance, making the audience very deserving of the fragrant, toothsome morsels that will be served up at key points. Come and find out'.
Fresh from huge comedy tours, performer Helen Duff's Vanity Bites Back deals with taboos surrounding anorexia, consumerism and stigmatisation. 'There are so many new forms of consumption available online,’ she says, ‘all of which encourage a disconnect between body and mind – [it’s] too easy to get sucked into a world of filters and FOMO. It's no surprise live performance is seizing upon it, forcing reality into the frame and playing havoc with the results.'
Her character Jill hosts a clown cookery show, and is, Duff says, 'very much a heightened extension of who I am. She's glorious to play – bold and brash and completely ridiculous – especially when it comes to cooking a cheesecake live on stage. It is inspired by my experiences of suffering with anorexia, so that tension that exists with her public face and her deep isolation are a reflection on the ways in which an eating disorder can cut you off from those you most want to connect with.'
She goes on: 'Jill aspires to be the next Nigella Lawson TV cookery sensation, but has absolutely no idea how to go about it. There are songs and dancing – but a lot of them are made up on the spot, and certainly couldn't be described as cabaret standard. It's bonkers'.
Meanwhile, acclaimed Canadian actor, writer and singer Rebecca Perry's Confessions of A Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl focuses on her character Joanie Little, a graduate stuck as a barista in a café, who takes an anthropological approach to her 'creatures' (customers).
Perry, an ex-café worker herself, claims she can tell who you are by the coffee you order. 'Are you a busy teacher? Have an iced americano to go. A chic art student? Sit in our café and read a book as you savour your café affogato. Fulfilling people's tastes is also reflecting their style, therefore showing the world your individuality,’ says Perry. She describes the show as 'a bit of everything, so I have come up with a fun new word as my definition: it is a 'showsical' – a one-woman show that is both a play and musical.
‘There's musical underscoring, cabaret patter and songs that reflect the mood, yet it has a beginning, middle and end like a three-act piece of theatre. I play 20 characters in one hour, so there are also elements of stand-up comedy'.
International company Clout Theatre have long titillated and provoked with their critically acclaimed oeuvre, which straddles horror and playful physical theatre. Their latest show FEAST is performed as a mime, exploring our sensual responses.
As performer Jennifer Swingler explains: 'I think the key to how our relationship with food has changed is excess. If you have an excessive amount of anything, it becomes emotional rather than primal. When we harvest and slaughter, there is a reverence for the animal or the crop and its contribution to man's survival.We no longer want the lumpy bits – we want it sunny side up, ubergrande, fat-free and vitamin pumped, not unlike the media or pornography when showing the human body. I'm not going on a feminist tirade here – women are just as guilty. Look at Daniel Craig, emerging from the sea as Bond. He is basically just a damp Chicken Nugget.'
Taking their structure from Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer's film Food, Clout’s dinner table becomes orgiastic. Performer George Ramsay elaborates: 'Svankmajer is obsessed with sensation, his films are full of touch, sound, tongues, meat and food … the carnivalesque breaking of taboos about wastage and manners can be enormously joyous. We attempt to gain more pleasure through more and more grotesque acts, but are ultimately left numbed by this deluge of pornographic imagery. Perversion is pushed to the extreme – a Baroque excess'.
'When one talks through a meal we forget to taste', he adds, 'the same can go for theatre'.
The Red Chair, Summerhall, 560 1581, 24–30 Aug, 10am, £12 (£8).
Vanity Bites Back, Gilded Balloon, 622 6552, 16–30 Aug, 12.15pm, £10–£12 (£8–£10).
Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl, Gilded Balloon, 622 6552, 8-31 Aug (not 12, 19, 26), 6.30pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9). Previews 5–7 Aug, £5.
FEAST, Zoo, 662 6892, 9–31 Aug, 3.55pm, £10 (£8). Previews 7 & 8 Aug, £8.