November 01, 1991

Edible theatre

The Cooked and the Raw
By Nick Gill
Adelaide Performing Theatre
Astor Hotel

The idea of the theatre restaurant is hardly new. Patrons have often sat at dramatic soirees rattling their cutlery while thespians cavort incongruously around them. But Nick Gill and the Adelaide Performing Theatre have given the notion quite a few more half turns with their “Exquisite Ceremony of Appetite and Desire.” The Cooked and the Raw is theatrical scratch-and-sniff, a four course play with a four course menu, all the action you can eat, a moveable feast at three successive venues – The Astor, McLarens on the Lake and Jambalayas. The Cooked and the Raw takes food as its subject and subjects you to food (deliciously conceived by Julie Ziukelis) at the same time.

Taking its title from The Raw and the Cooked, Levi-Strauss’s mid-sixties classic of structuralist anthropology, the play explores not only the rituals and sensations of food preparation but also the ceremonies of its despatch. For the entree course we· begin in 18th century France. The Baron and Baroness (Peter Wood and Deborah Little) entertain with a little servility from the help – Pucelle and Felix (Kerry Reid and Mikhael East).

Theyare seated at a polymorphous looking table with a sculptured backdrop of fruit and veg of the generally pendulous and luscious variety. Bananas, persimmons and pomegranates feature, as does the show’s cryptic motif, the aubergine. Designer Constance Gordon-Johnson has some spoof paintings as well, Manet’s Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe and a bareback version of Tom Roberts’ A Break Away. Add Tim Sexton’s almost subliminal smorgasbord of music and you have the senses working overtime. While we hoed into the asparagus, the yabbies and brioche the Baron and his crew told succulent tales of erotic encounter – finger-licking lobster sex and all sorts of cherry juice slurping until, at the height of the Baroness’s lactating confession, her husband decides it’s all too saucy to continue.

By the next course we start to get the hang of things – the four actors have colour coded costumes and there’s more vegetable humour. We are now at the meat and three veg stage and the setting is a 19th century Australian homestead. The women are in the kitchen cracking carrot jokes while the chaps are out bazookaring geese and collecting Nunga aphrodisiacs. With plates of rolled guinea fowl and spinach in front of us and hot bread on cue with the dialogue – we watch the reunion at the old bark hut when the boys come home for supper and conjugals. This piece is oddly judged, with seduction, sentiment and farce in uneasy conjunction – a kind of Carry on McCubbin.

We than have to wait until 1921 for pudding. Chocolate marquise with stewed quandong and a short play about the Toorak Vile Bodies set. There’s a drippy Englishman and an Italian Futurist covered in chocolate. The fourth course, archly entitled Four Actors in Search of a Glass of Port, is a play for voices. The subject is appetite in extremis – anorexia to satiety. Omnivore, carnivore, herbivore and nothing eaten – the actors changed into their symbolically coloured leotards. Meanwhile we heat up our profiteroles and aubergine tartlets. Once again the levels shift as the actors begin to chant a mantra in celebration of the aubergine and we are left wondering why the already perilous meaning is allowed to fall into whimsy.

Under Nick Gill’s direction the four performers work the small airy space in the Astor with ease and some flair. The production, with its edible subtext, is imaginative but eccentric. The text, at times rich and humorous is also dense, allusive and tenuously connected. The overall impression is of substance subverted and meaning dissipated in self-parody. Pleasurable though it often is, The Cooked and the Raw is ultimately a matter of taste.

“Edible Theatre”, The Adelaide Review, No.94, November 1991, p.35.

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