Edinburgh Nights: Indulgence like this should be punished

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The Independent Online
'Gargantua the

Underbelly'

Grid Iron

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 exploration of bodily functions.

Among the copious literary quotes in the programme - a sprinkling of Claude Levi-Strauss, a dash of Brillat-Savarin - the show's deviser, Ben Harrison, acknowledges the influence of Rabelais's satire Gargantua and Pantagruel (1534), with its 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 such as "Ex-boyfriend?" "Foccaccio!"), polished off by some lavishly detailed sexual intercourse between a couple sitting at a table.

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 to look at, the four actors (Melanie Bradley, Iona Carbarns, Tony Delicata and Alan McPherson) are energetic, engaging even - but they are having to get their mouths round a half-baked script. Too many different experiences of food (Granny's onion soup, John Wayne Bobbit's blood sausage, samosas that a boyfriend never ate) end up spoiling this candlelit evening.

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