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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Gastronauts
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs  Winter 2013

This immersive experience sits the audience at dinner tables to be served bits of food while watching sketches, songs and lectures on the general subject of food. It begins playfully, but quickly switches to a rather heavy-handed pandering to liberal guilt. 

The opening courses, as it were, toy with our perceptions of food. Colour-disguised drinks turn out to have unexpected flavours – cucumber, curry, baked bean. A savoury dish is disguised as a sweet, a sweet looks like egg salad, tinned minestrone is passed off as a Scottish granny's home-made lentil soup, all served with campy high spirits by the cast of five. 

But things turn serious as the sketches, by April De Angelis and Nessah Muthy with director Wils Wilson, turn to reasons why we should not be complacent about food. 

City types speculate on sugar futures, making huge profits and raising prices while screwing the farmers, advertising types find ways to cover up the dangers of their diet foods. The First World toys with diets and anorexia, and fills its meats with pesticides and chemicals, while the Third World starves and our own underclass depends on food banks, and we're just one bad harvest away from food riots in the streets. 

Meanwhile, enjoy the very nice cake, ignoring the fact that it comes from a scene about a dead baby, and glance at the bill, perhaps noticing that it is actually a list of guilt-inducing facts (number of people worldwide who are chronically undernourished, amount of water required to produce 1 kg of chicken, etc.), before retiring to the Royal Court bar downstairs, perhaps to try their new hamburger menu. 

How conscious were the authors that they are inviting the audience to painlessly wallow in just enough guilt to reassure them that they are good people because they are upset by the right things, without really upsetting them? How conscious was the Royal Court that this play is designed for precisely the traditional liberal middle-class audience that the theatre is trying so hard to move beyond?

If you have never had a theatrical experience that didn't involve sitting in rows of auditorium seats, the novelty of the setting might amuse you, and the hard-working cast deserve some admiration. But not the play.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review - Gastronauts - Royal Court Theatre 2013  
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