Theatre review: Trash Cuisine, Young Vic, London


Michael Coveney
Thursday 06 June 2013 10:46
Trash Cuisine by Belarus Free Theatre. Nastassia Shcherbak features centre.
Trash Cuisine by Belarus Free Theatre. Nastassia Shcherbak features centre.

Roll up for a whole new concept of a cookery show with a special menu of fried murderer, stoned adulteress, tortured terrorist and, the ever popular old favourite, the slaughter of the innocents.

The sauces and garnishes are, quite literally, to die for: two naked victims are decorated with apples and pineapple, then rolled deliciously into two plastic bin liners and served instantly at a roadside café, probably a ditch or a sewer.

Out jumps our lugubrious kitchen guide, Pierre Noir, to explain the delicate dismemberment of an ortolan: the blinding, fattening, the cooking (in brandy), the chewing, the savouring of the entire life of a bird, from the wheat fields of Morocco, through the salt air of the Mediterranean, to the lavender fields of Provence.

Only the banished and itinerant Belarus Free Theatre – active now since 2005 and hailing from the last European country using the death penalty – could invent so lyrical and sardonic a hymn to the glories of death. For in killing each other, and subjecting each other to barbaric forms of torture, we are surely killing ourselves.

Pierre invokes a variation to his recipe according to Liam Holden, a young Northern Irishman condemned to death for killing a British paratrooper in 1971 and cooked in prison for a long time after soaking in water (ie, waterboarding), gently masticated by the system and finally having his conviction quashed.  

There’s a passing reference here to the great dissident Russian poet and rock star, Vladimir Vysotsky (whose Hamlet was among the best I ever saw), and the Belarus convey a similar sense of disgust and dismay at the workings of the world: the hounding and destruction of innocent suspects; the slaughter of the Tutsi in Rwanda; the physical reality of electrocution, done as a count-down hissing performance; a dance of death by actors horizontally strapped to their chairs.

Other Shakespearean references to Claudius (“my offence is rank”) and Shylock (carrion flesh preferred to three thousand ducats), and the on-screen testimony of human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, are less powerful, but support the point about the commercial dealing in humanity that is then served up as this main cookery course.

What the Belarus does so well, in fact, is take the idea of those Tricycle tribunal plays and transform the documentary evidence into spellbinding theatrical imagery. The chorus line of onion chopping with machetes and cleavers is authentically cutting edge.

To 15 June (020 7922 2922)

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