Pros: Food is charming, lighthearted and contains enough gentle humour to make it easily digestible.
Cons: The story has been done a million times before and doesn’t have enough new ideas to make it unique. Food is a simple dish, one cooked up so many times before that it is a classic but simple offering – just imagine your mum’s Sunday roast. It’s a recipe of two sisters, one wild child who ran away from home at seventeen and one sensible sister who remained to take over the family takeaway business. Years later the wild sister waltzes back, finding her sister seemingly unchanged, still running the takeaway alone and the same as it ever was. When the younger sister returns it brings out the pair’s history, the bitterness and resentment, the questioning of why the younger sister left, why she hated their mother so much and why she deserted the older sister. Add in the final ingredient, the handsome male stranger who happens upon them just as they are looking for some extra help and so far, so typical.
The question is how does Food stand out from all the other delights on the menu of London theatre? For starters, there is a simple charm and a lovely sweetness to the production that means the story may be as old as your granny’s hot-pot, but the smell still makes you smile. The three strong cast give it some proper (beef) welly-ton, their interactions playful and cleverly drawing you in as the boring takeaway is slowly transformed into their homely little restaurant. It’s the first play I can recall where freshly baked bread is handed out to the audience as the three rush about, excitedly describing opening night, from the dread of empty tables to the arrival of the first customers through to a packed house. The way they address the audience, a trick that could be annoying if done wrong, works simply because of the charming way they play it. It all adds up, making Food simmer gently along as the plot thickens like a good gravy.
Then of course there is the lovely intimate venue that is the Finborough Theatre. Having only been here once before I was surprised to find that the small upstairs theatre was in a completely different arrangement, the seating having been moved to create a stage sandwich; two layers of audience with the stage the filling in between. This gave the play even more intimacy as you were never more than a French stick’s length away. The staging is as simple as the food on offer, bare except for a freezer, a cooker and a deep fat fryer, plus two ladders, cleverly used by the characters to ascend and watch from above as action takes place between the others.
Finally there is the writing and direction. The descriptive style was delivered at times as if reading a menu, never more so than when our male charmer listed his previous sexual experiences. Characters take their turns to describe scenes, the sisters regress to their childhood as secrets are revealed that begin to explain how they have come to be where they are. There is a little spice thrown in, and trust me, if you don’t like it hot, you may not enjoy one sister describing what the other sister got up to at a young age, whilst said sister portrays it in a graphic way that left me having to glance away for a moment! As well as those moments of spiciness, there is plenty of choice language that may leave a bitter taste in the mouth for some.
Ultimately Food served up enough to make this production more than enjoyable, leaving me sated with what had been dished up in front of me. I felt unsure as to what the chef (sorry, I mean writer) was truly aiming to achieve, as the final course left questions I could not quite fathom. Thankfully though Food had enough ingredients to make the production a pleasant experience, just maybe it needed just a dash more salt.
Writer: Steve Rodgers
Director: Cressida Brown
Producers: NewPlay Productions in association with Neil McPherson
Box Office: 084 4847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2017/food.php
Booking Until: 15 July 2017