EDINBURGH FESTIVAL '98: Theatre: Food, laborious food is hard to swallow

GARGANTUA THE UNDERBELLY CENTRAL LIBRARY

THE EDINBURGH company Grid Iron scored a huge hit at last year's Fringe by staging an adaptation of Angela Carter's short story The Bloody Chamber in the city vaults. Having established themselves as responsibly minded practitioners of site-specific theatre, this time round they have been allowed into vaults beneath the magnificent Central Library that have remained disused for the last 10 years.

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.

Dominic Cavendish

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments