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A CurtainUp London London Review

"Nothing here is what it seems. We cater to your twisted dreams." — Justine
Justine Mitchell and Nathaniel Martello-White with Andy Clark behind (Photo: Johan Persson)
In an experimental show, Vicky Featherstone's regime at the Royal Court again shows us that she is prepared to take risks. This latest event, Gastronauts, asks the audience to bring food with them to top up the food banks for those who cannot afford the basics. Meanwhile the audience is taken on a fantasy food flight, each course having a message about what we eat and what the future of food might be. It contrasts the luxury of fine gourmet dining with hunger on the streets of London, obesity with dieting solutions as well as the memories and pleasure that food invokes. "Are we eating other people's misery?" is the proselytising message.

Before we take our flight, we assemble in a holding area where glasses of curiously coloured liquid invite us to taste them. Despite their watery appearance, some taste of curry, others of cucumber, others of tinned baked beans, and of watered down fruit juice although the origin was probably more exotic. But then we are ushered into a seated area of tables with waiting staff dressed like an interpretation of figures from Thunderbirds, so part waiting staff, part flight attendants. Alasdair Macrae on a keyboard provides the music for the songs.

With an almost religious fervour, the bread is entered in baskets but with one of the waiting staff mixing flour and water and kneading a dough while the various forms that bread comes in worldwide is celebrated. Andy Clark, a Scotsman recalls his granny's lentil soup before the soup is served. I had a Scots mother who boiled a ham hock to make lentil soup in a pressure cooker but we have been assured that everything served at the Royal Court is vegetarian. This makes us remember how we associate food experience with loving people from our past. Contrast this with a later scene where the Time Out critic was pressurised to eat an overly sugared and decorated, sickly cupcake by Isabel (Imogen Doel) who uses every emotional rapier in her armoury to remind him of the effort she has made to prepare it. We could see the pleading in his eyes wanting to please her and yet he couldn't eat any more without being sick.

We see the sales pitch for futuristic food, those freeze dried Astropacks you can buy in Houston and Cape Canaveral and later, sample the answer to protein shortages while a cow, a sheep a piggy and a horse remind us of the true cost of meat. Each time food or a drink is dropped, the team go into the SPILL routine, shouting "Spill" and rushing around with the clean up tools. Another dinner date played out by the actors sees two men (Nathaniel Martello-White and Andy Clark) chatting each other up. A bossa nova dance celebrates sugar.

The last cup of coffee, the only cup of coffee, is auctioned off to the person who makes the best case for his importance in the survival of the earth. Our table's evolutionary biologist lost out to a journalist but having tasted the food samples, there were many of us unconvinced that the coffee would be worth fighting for. While we are dining on morsels of fried cabbage we hear food riots on the streets of London, dogs barking and machine gun fire outside . . . and then there is a power failure! There is more discussion about the death of a dieter on nothing but six shakes a day and a reference to the conditions of the immigrant food workers who contribute to British agriculture. Justine Mitchell has a strong singing voice for the songs.

This is an evening that turns theatre critics into food critics but there is plenty of food for thought in Gastronauts.

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Written by April De Angelis and Nessah Muthy
Created by April De Angelis, Nessah Muthy and Wils Wilson
Directed by Wils Wilson

Starring: Andy Clark, Imogen Doel, Alasdair Macrae, Nathaniel Martello-White, Justine Mitchell
Designed by Lizzie Clachan
Composer and Musical Director: Alasdair Macrae
Sound: Emily Legg
Lighting: Natasha Chivers
Running time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 21st December 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th November 2013 performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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