BWW Review: GASTRONOMIC, Shoreditch Town Hall
Three chefs are preparing for the last dinner service on an Airbus headed to London from Beirut. While Nora Schmidt's (Georgina Strawson) new menu is about to debut with the guests in first class, on the ground at Heathrow spirits are starting to heat as alert is rising.
Conceived by curious directive's artistic director Jack Lowe and devised by the company, Gastronomic is a journey through memory, identity, and community to prove the social power of eating together. 44 audience members gather to embark on an adventure for which not many details are shared online. The 7-course tasting menu is kept secret until one sits down at the elliptic communal table (allergens for each offering are listed but dietary requirements aren't seen to due to the nature of the show), but it's safe and spoiler-free to say that it introduces a twist on typical British foods.
Strawson is joined by Craig Hamilton and Ani Nelson as Luca and Agat, the rest of the kitchen staff. Cameras point towards their hands accompany the preparation of the dishes, which are then brought in from the back of the room where Clyde Ngounou and Daniel Spirlinng prepare the stunning creation with surgical precision aided by trainee chefs from Blue Marble Training at the Shoreditch Trust.
The story introduces the psychological aspects of eating a meal with interludes of sorts where the characters open up with personal anecdotes and make heartrending reflections on the essence of sharing bread. They explain their love for the culinary arts and how they can touch people in different ways. Nora, Agat, and Luca's passion stems from distinctive places both physical and metaphorical, and the notion that recipes are memories transformed into food permeates the piece of theatre from the very start.
It's difficult to pin Gastronomic down, as Lowe has managed to blend reality and fiction in a perfect concoction. While the public is treated to five-star morsels, the plot thickens and what develops is a touching celebration of the multiculturalism of cuisine. The trio seek shelter in it and they offer refuge with it, highlighting how ingredients have spread and tastes have latched onto separate cultures from the beginning of times.
The show isn't a dining experience and struggles to be confined into the limits of theatre, combining sophisticated storytelling with slight audience inclusion in its advancement. The technology used to spice up the narrative isn't yet impeccable (the screens that host the close-ups are quite hard to notice and the iPads are mostly propped up idly on the table) but it becomes a transformative evening for foodies and theatregoers alike.
The level of detailing goes from how plates roll up in front of the guests just like luggage through security to the presentation and arrangement of the dishes themselves. Amelia Jane Hankin's design is as distinctively cold as an airport's with the difference that hers is tastefully heated up by Ed Elbourne's lighting design.
Everything included, the play is a delicate reminder of how opening up the country to the influences and goods coming from foreign lands joins together people and experiences. Food is a uniting force and Gastronomic is a tender feast for the heart.