Chef, Soho Theatre

CHEF soho theatre

Fifty minutes went by in a flash, and yet just metres away actress Jade Anouka had recounted the entire life story of a troubled but talented chef.

Chef is a short play with plenty of power. After premiering at Edinburgh Fringe Festival it has won a string of awards and now finds itself in the heart of London’s West End at Soho Theatre. The piece is part of the summer programme of monologue-based plays.

This one-woman show is a platform for a strong and versatile actress and Jade Anouka rises to the challenge. She tells the story eloquently and fervently, using the small stage imaginatively to flick between characters and scenarios. With almost no staging and very few props, she holds the attention of the audience for almost an hour and leaves us wanting to hear more.

We hear the tale of a young girl abused by a father, the woes of her destructive relationships but then the joy she experiences as a young woman learning her craft in the kitchen. Food is not just her passion and skill but it is her escape. She seeks shelter and solace in the kitchen when the world turns on her. We hear how she established herself at the helm of an haute-cuisine restaurant later finding herself, as a convicted inmate, running a prison kitchen. A white board allows the play to be split into sections, each titled with a foodie delight like ‘The Perfect Peach’ or ‘Red Berries with Hibiscus Sorbet’.

The script is lyrical and poetic; at times the rhythm of Anouka’s speech becomes almost rap-like in its realisation. The writing is florid with lots of description and complex imagery – it requires concentration to fully understand, but is satisfying and beautiful to listen to. I felt fully immersed in the narrative and at times noticed myself gasp or jump with surprise.

Chef is a mesmerising insight into the life of a chef, and the life of a convict but most of all the life of woman and the struggle for love and fulfilment. Sabrina Mahfouz’s thought-provoking play will provide the perfect talking point over dinner in one of Soho’s lovely eateries.

Chef continues until 4 July 2015, more information and book here.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Gods and Monsters, Southwark Playhouse

Gods and Monsters, based on Christopher Bram’s novel Father Of Frankenstein, tells the story of James Whale, the director of Show Boat, Journey’s End and classic horror films Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein. Following a series of strokes, he is living out his final days in solitude and torment, with his once-sharp mind increasingly clouded with nostalgia and confusion.

His sexual desires now rule what is left of his mind, and lusty exchanges with a young film student interviewer land him in hospital again. Cooped up with his housekeeper Maria, and cut off from society, his life changes when he attempts to manufacture a friendship with the ruggedly handsome gardener Clayton Boone, who agrees to have his portrait drawn by Whale. It is from this moment on that events begin to quicken and spiral.

Ian Gelder’s performance as Whale is astonishing, expertly capturing the full range of emotions felt by a fading elder statesman. Bluster competes against frailty, with gallows humour punctuating the frustration and resignation of a man living his final days.

His interplay with fiercely religious Maria, played by Lachele Carl, show glimpses of his previous mental agility, and Maria’s unshakeable conviction that “Mister Jimmy” is bound irrevocably for hell mixes with a maternal tolerance of his vices, leading to a complex dynamic which brings its fair share of humour to an otherwise dark subject matter.

Will Austin, playing Boone, the muscle-bound object of Whale’s desire, delivers a nuanced performance of a simple hometown boy faced with an exotic unknown of Whale’s sexuality, which he struggles to reconcile with their friendship. His physical likeness to the Monster about which Whale wrote so movingly must not be by accident, and adds another layer to the author’s lusting.

Throughout the drama, Whale is tormented by flashbacks of significant events of his youth, from Dudley to the Trenches of the Great War, both involving innocent infatuations. These weave in and out of the present-day action on stage, brought to life by Joey Phillips and Will Rastell. These two actors also play Whale’s doctor and Kay, the film student, and their skill and sensitivity make Whale’s decline all the more heart breaking, as he contemplates a past that seems as real as anything, but that only he can see.

The staging at the Southwark Playhouse is such that as an audience one practically spills down into the stage from three sides, and as such creates an experience at times intimate and occasionally intrusive, as we witness the slow unravelling of a creative genius faced with the slow demise of his very identity. I advise you to catch it while you can, with its delicate consideration of universally applicable themes.

Continues at Southwark Playhouse until 7 March, book tickets here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, James Bomford.

East is East, Trafalgar Studios

I have never seen the film East is East, so I couldn’t compare this stage version to the original motion picture like everyone else was on press night. Currently on stage at the boutique theatre Trafalgar Studios, this revival of Ayub Khan-Din’s play offers an insight into the multicultural issues which arise in a joint faith marriage and consequently affect the mixed race Pakistani-English children.

The audience quickly get to know George and Ella Khan and six of their seven headstrong children. Brought up in 1970s Salford with a strict Pakistani father, the kids witness a cultural clash between their surroundings and their heritage, eager to please their tyrannical dad whilst still making their own life decisions. Pakistan’s troubles at the time are often mentioned and are of paramount importance to George’s running of the family. Back in his hometown his first wife receives regular gifts of material from him, and we hear about the political upheaval from TV and radio updates.

The cast work together immaculately to form the volatile Khan family. Jane Horrocks is delicate but daring as the mother stuck between her aggressive husband and demanding children, and I particularly warmed to Sally Bankes as Auntie Annie, Ella’s much needed friend. Also memorably impressive is Michael Karim who plays Sajit the youngest and most disturbed child hidden under his Parka hood.

The dusty brick stage remains in place throughout the play despite the changes in location. It became a little confusing when they attempted to transform the homely space into a chip shop. It is thoughtfully directed by rising star, Sam Yates who manages to create an evocative home environment, and finds excitement in the mundane.

East is East is a beautifully acted play which remains harshly relevant today. An intelligent comedy which leaves one questioning the society we live in.

Continues until 3 January 2015, book tickets here.