Food

Joel Horwood and Christopher Heimann
theimaginarybody
BAC
(2007)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that shows which set all the bells ringing in the overheated hubbub of the Edinburgh Festival are prone to land in London with a dull thud.

A change of venue or a change of cast may have something to do with it. This 70-minute performance piece about the rise and downfall of a celebrity chef was first seen in the intimacy of the Traverse 2 studio space, where it won universal acclaim and a Fringe First award — see Philip Fisher’s first enthusiastic despatch from Edinburgh.

But with nothing more than choreographed mime to furnish the on-stage kitchen, it looks lost in the vertiginous cavern of the BAC’s main theatre, where the cast of five need to work harder to deliver textual nourishment to the back of the hall if they hope to gain our involvement.

First devised by theimaginarybody company, then scripted by Joel Horwood in conjunction with director Christopher Heimann, the plot is inspired by the true-life story of Bernard Loiseau, a celebrated French chef who took his own life at the height of his success.

As now re-staged for London, James Stadden takes over from Sean Campion who played the original Frank as a paranoid Irish chef and restaurateur with one ambition in life, to win and then struggle to keep the coveted third Michelin star for his restaurant The Boiling Pot.

Stadden is more a foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsay, shooting F-words from his hip like an AK47 and driving his staff and family to distraction with his aggressive pursuit of foody perfection, television fame and a profitable cookbook publishing deal.

He offers us a man with feet so firmly on the ground that his collapse into doubt and suicidal despair seems quite out of character. But Stadden does a marvellous bookend turn as a man not raving but drowning, a gentle blue-lit death in the same watery environment from which he has drawn his succulent lobsters. Meanwhile Matt Downing’s sound effects provide the bubbly acoustic.

From the original cast Jon Foster gives powerful and generous support as the rough-hewn business partner and sous-chef Tom, Vic Bryson repeats her warm, womanly performance as Frank’s ever-loving wife Cherry, while Graham O’Mara re-creates half-a-dozen different roles with his rubbery legged clowning and apparently total indifference to vocal projection.

But talent spotters should hurry to the BAC for RADA graduate Danielle Ryan’s stunning professional debut as Frank’s urbane daughter, kitchen slave and several awe-inspiring, ruthless media babes with hidden agendas. Lovely stuff.

John Thaxter