Shoreditch Town Hall
Reviewed – 26th September 2019
“a smorgasbord brimming with light and shade, tension and reflection, and poetic language and cheesy jokes, leaving you fully satisfied by its end”
‘We cater for everything’, Nora explains, as she waxes lyrical on the beauty of gastronomy to the audience, framed as passengers on a long-haul flight. The speech is delivered through headphones that we each wear, accompanied by pulsing, transcendent music, while the lights flicker in a hypnotic canon. All the while, we’re consuming the most thematically prescient and tongue-igniting Yorkshire puddings perhaps to have ever graced the stage. I think it’s safe to say that Nora isn’t wrong.
Gastronomic centres on three chefs – Nora (Georgina Strawson), Luca (Craig Hamilton), and Agat (Ani Nelson) – catering for a first-class long-haul flight from Mumbai to Heathrow. The audience, as the passengers, subsequently get to enjoy the seven courses they produce, while their interactions reveal that their intentions may not be as clear-cut as they seem; flashbacks slowly reveal a story that’s truly about the necessity of connection and empathy between humans, and the ways in which we express it. The poignancy of this main plot is excellently counterbalanced in a parallel narrative where the actors instead play Border Control personnel, sharing banter and interacting with the audience, while also carrying an undercurrent of unsteadiness that erupts in its culmination. The devised script from curious directive (conceived by Jack Lowe) is a smorgasbord brimming with light and shade, tension and reflection, and poetic language and cheesy jokes, leaving you fully satisfied by its end.
However, Gastronomic’s script is only one of its myriad of facets. The food (prepared chiefly by head chef Clyde Ngounou and sous-chef Daniel Spirlinng) isn’t just there as a cheap gimmick – each course ties directly into the story, created as a result of the characters’ experiences and histories. At one point, Nora reminisces about what made her drop an ice cream on Brighton pier, while we devour End of Brighton Pier – what appears to be an ice cream cone but is actually deconstructed fish and chips – allowing us to essentially taste the memory. The ways in which the food manifests the psychology of the characters as well as the script’s linguistic imagery is truly staggering, and makes for a sensory experience like no other. Thankfully, every single course is also delicious, a particular highlight being the supernova of autumnal flavours that Sherwood Forest delivered.
The multi-sensory nature of the show doesn’t stop there, though. Due to the headphones being worn by the audience, it allows the sound mix (designed by Kieran Lucas) to be incredibly cinematic. The actors are free to speak as intimately as they wish, giving a surrendering sensitivity to some of the more heart-wrenching moments, while also being able to take it to the other extreme and embrace the theatricality of other scenes, which is a balance that Hamilton especially was able to utilise spectacularly with his two hugely contrasting characters. When the next course is on its way, the speech is aviated by Theo Whitworth’s soul-searing compositions and flouresced by Ed Elbourne’s liminal lighting. Jack Lowe’s design and direction of the show has ensured that everything truly has been catered for; Gastronomic is a massage for every sense. The food isn’t just for the stomach, but for the mind and soul.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Ali Wright
Shoreditch Town Hall until 12th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: