EDINBURGH FESTIVAL '98: Theatre: Food, laborious food is hard to swallow
GARGANTUA THE UNDERBELLY CENTRAL LIBRARY
Thursday 13 August 1998
The company must have patted itself on the back for having secured an architectural underbelly in which to conduct its ambitious exploration of bodily functions.
Among the copious literary quotes in the programme - a sprinkling of Claude Levi-Strauss, a dash of Brillat-Savarin - the deviser of the show, Ben Harrison, acknowledges the influence of Rabelais's novels Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-1534), with their insatiable giants, for whom there is no punishment for indulgence.
One of the best dramatic dishes served up during the course of this 90- minute promenade is the tale of Gargantua's unnatural birth (via an ear) and piggy childhood. But elsewhere the emphasis is on capturing the spirit of the guilt-free guzzle, as a means of countering Scotland's "stern Calvinist inheritance".
The starter, in which three clowns in grey tunics suggest a miserable clockwork office existence through perfectly executed mime, is promising, with more than a flavour of Alice in Wonderland. With the arrival of the weekend, they leap to their feet and head off through the dank, but not malodorous, passageways into an imaginary restaurant where an Italian chef is cooking up an invisible meal.
It is at this point that a whiff of slightly nauseating self-indulgence begins to permeate proceedings: with an extended sequence of foodie talk (gobbledegook exclamations such as "Ex-boyfriend?" "Focaccia!"), polished off by some lavishly detailed sexual intercourse between a couple sitting at a table (an oyster is "swollen, palpably indecent").
You might think that this carefully planned walkabout to strains of violin and piano would get the audience stuck in more than the average piece of dramatic spoonfeeding, but the experience is rather like watching a TV cookery programme, and having to endure other people's simulated groans of pleasure.
The decor is beautiful - the giant watermelon couches, or the fruit-strewn altar. The four actors (Melanie Bradley, Iona Carbarns, Tony Delicata and Alan McPherson) are energetic, engaging even - but have to get their mouths round a half-baked script. Too many experiences of food (Granny's onion soup, John Wayne Bobbit's blood sausage, samosas that a boyfriend never came back to eat) end up spoiling this candlelit evening.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre