Chef*** (Soho Theatre)

Posted: June 18, 2015 in Theatre

320x320.fitandcropThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Food offers up a metaphor for everything in life as viewed by Sabrina Mahfouz in her one- woman play. The chain which sees it move from source to kitchen, its careful preparation and its final consumption are all shown to correspond with twists and turns of fate. The central character, known simply as “Chef” and played here by Jade Anouka, is obsessed with food. She would only accept an invitation to a meal on the condition that she could take her own gravy. We see her firstly in the kitchen of a restaurant, gently mocking chic dining trends and later in a prison preparing meals for her fellow inmates. Her journey is charted in a non-linear narrative and each “chapter” is headed by an appetising dish. For her, food is a constant love in a life filled with hatred and violence, a provider of joy and fulfilment and a route for escaping pain. A gangster boyfriend and a suicidal prison friend feature in Chef’s story, but the overriding presence in her life is that of her bullying, abusive father, absent as a salmon farmer for much of the time, but returning when he is sick and needy. Chef speaks of him with revulsion – “even the fish thought he was a ****, didn’t want to be around him…” – but it is he who provides her with the moral dilemma that would change the course of her life. Mahfouz’s writing is vividly descriptive, sometimes brutal, yet seasoned with humour and irony. The story simmers nicely before coming to the boil in the later stages once the play’s central theme has been revealed. At this point, the playwright tackles difficult issues with considerable sensitivity and insight. Dressed in all white with a chequered headband. Anouka’s animated, often excitable Chef always has the audience rooting for her and makes her passion for food clear for all to see. Anouka looks slightly uncomfortable when affecting street slang in the light opening section, but her performance becomes heartfelt when the scale of the ill fortune and injustice inflicted on her character becomes apparent. The ingredients here are well-mixed and Chef emerges as a 50-minute course of theatre that is tasty and satisfying.

Performance date: 17 June 2015

Photo: Richard Davenport

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