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Monday, 27 February 2017

Food and theatre and an A to Z look at these two passions of mine combined.

Apologies for not being present too much of late on my food blog. I have been increasing my hours at my food related job at Tesco to bring in much needed dosh and in the meantime have been working on my professional writing and in particular on my theatre reviewing. There aren't enough hours in the day for what I like to do but my life is fun nevertheless even when the ghosts of totally totally skint rear their scary heads.

Anyway, so today is my 61st birthday and yet again I have been busy writing! This time I have been compiling a comedy piece for a competition to do with the theatre production of Anita and Me (touring). Hopefully I will win the £300 top prize. "Bostin'!"
In between time I have been writing for Sardines magazine and here is my original version of the piece I sent in. In the published piece the A-Z bit has been edited to something slightly less serious than what I originally wrote. No offence to the editor but I prefer my version re-produced here.

Phil Lowe as Kim in Festen

"The playwright Shakespeare must have known a fair amount about the world of the senses as he very often writes about the look and taste of food in his theatre works. Food and drink could be metaphors for the times he lived in, a poetic way of describing human nature and the communications of his characters or simply the enjoyable experience of eating and drinking for humans and animals writ large.

From Othello we have “Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used.” Henry V has “I would give up all my fame for a pot of ale” and Anthony and Cleopatra go Come Dine With Us crazy with the quote “Eight wild boars roasted whole at breakfast but twelve persons there.” William Shakespeare also offers us warnings through the medium of food which some would do well to heed even today.

From The Comedy of Errors Act Five Scene One brings us the stark warning “Unquiet meals make ill digestions” and in A Midsummer Night's Dream Egeus tells his actors “... dear actors, eat no onions or garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath; and I do not doubt but to hear them say it is a sweet comedy...” Even a monster like Caliban in The Tempest must eat and in Act One Scene Two he starts off his monologue with “I must eat my dinner...” He doesn't go to say what the dinner actually is but that is theatrical licence for you!

Of course many playwrights introduce elements of food and drink in their plays. Sometimes they are the title of the play itself such as in Alan Bennett's A Chip in the Sugar. Here Bennett's clever word play gives us two food references in the title which are directly referred to in the character's monologue itself “And I looked and there was a chip in the sugar.” It this sense his character is registering disgust. Unlike in Arnold Wesker's play Chips With Everything Alan Bennett's character Graham definitely doesn't like his chip within sugar or without.

In Bennett's A Cream Cracker Under The Settee we can determine just how dangerous food can be if left just out of reach by the elderly. Bennett's ubiquitous cream cracker is almost a character in itself as it cruelly watches the old lady dying by the front door. In my humble opinion that kind of drama really takes the biscuit. However, it does get to the crunch in a mere fifty minutes. I regularly review plays and there is nothing worse than an over cooked play. I digress.

The controversial play Festen requires three actual meals for a large, violently at odds, Danish family to eat whilst falling out spectacularly over the stomach churning subject of sexual abuse within the family. A definite case of the returning son Christian seriously spilling the beans and upsetting family apple cart.

In the play Saturday, Sunday, Monday by Eduardo De Filippo the Italian family cast do virtually nothing but eat beautiful Italian food on stage and, in between family rows, speak lovingly of Italian food throughout the entire play. When it has been performed worldwide the audiences leave the theatre drooling from sensory overload. Subsequently, it has been said that Pizza restaurants close to the theatres have experienced a massive upsurge in post theatrical dining! Who says that theatre doesn't influence people? Now, who had the dough balls?

In the musical Les Misérables the cast sing of terrible hardships and near starvation. M. Thenardier rejoices in his corruption of foodstuffs he offers to his guests and if Jean Valjean hadn't gone and stolen a loaf of bread to feed his sister's family he wouldn't have gone to jail. Therefore, there would be no story to tell at all. You see, one's vitals are often vital if a play is to succeed.

The comedy/drama Toast by Richard Bean and starring Matthew Kelly on its recent UK tour is set entirely in a troubled bakery in 1975 and examines the lives of the bakers who need to get a vital part of the baking machinery working or they could potentially lose their jobs.

There has recently been a new production in York called #ChipShoptheMusical that got excellent reviews. It is always a risk with any new show and Cod forbid it could've got a critical battering.

It isn't always meat from animals that gets eaten in shows. Sometimes the flesh is an acquired taste. Two prime examples would be the lovely human flesh meat pies in Sweeney Todd and the comically horrific revelation that Mam's lover Stuart has been chopped up and eaten in Lee Hall's dark comedy drama Cooking with Elvis.

If all this is making you hungry let's look at my very tongue in cheek A to Z of plays and things theatrical that feature food and drink. Enjoy.

A: Abigail's Party – a social nightmare of 1970s food and excessive drinking.

B: The Baker's Wife by Stephen Schwartz. Could also be called Burn 'em the musical.

C: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

D: The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter.

E: A Day In The Death of Joe Egg. A cracking play.

F: “Food Glorious Food” from Oliver!

G: Grease – a vital ingredient for cake making or frying as well as a popular musical.

H: Hair. An unwanted item in foodstuffs and also musical showing plenty of flesh.

I: The Iceman Cometh – Eugene O'Neill's family drama about a fridge breaking down.

J: Jack and the Beanstalk. A pantomime which can include optional custard pies.

K: The Kitchen by Arnold Wesker.

L: Little Fish – 2003 Off Broadway show.

M: Milk and Honey – musical by Jerry Herman.

N: Noises Off – references to sardines. Someone should pick up on this. Magazine title anyone?

O: Omelette – original title of Hamlet. Changed at the last minute when they ran out of eggs and found something meaty and Danish to present.

P: Picnic by William Inge.

Q: The place leading to the toilet after too many interval drinks.

R: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

S: Spamalot by Eric Idle.

T: Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn.

U: Urinetown - the musical. Not strictly food and drink but certainly an after effect.

V: The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show.

W: We Will Rock Cake You. Musical about the Queen of hard core baking.

X: Exit quickly stage left – when the pre-show curry suddenly has a dire effect.

Y: York Mystery Plays – Jesus does miracles with fish and wine yet is crucified for it.

Z: Zzzz is the sound people make falling asleep at the theatre after a big meal.

There were a few others that didn't make the final choice. These are A Cookery School For Scandal, The Government Hotel Kitchen Inspector, Spotted Dick Whittington, Blood Pudding Brothers and of course The Best Little Bakehouse in Texas.

Phil Lowe

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