With its rarefied Sloane Square address, elegant Victorian building and decades and decades of Really Important new writing, it’s easy to forget how kooky the prestigious Royal Court Theatre can be.
April de Angelis and Nessah Muthy’s ‘Gastronauts’ is a reminder, a prodigiously silly dining ‘experience’ that gradually reveals itself to be a sort of roundabout performance lecture about how messed up our food chain is. It’s more the sort of thing you’d expect from hip performance collective Shunt than the theatre that gave us John Osborne and Sarah Kane. And, frankly, it’s a hoot.
The scenario is never exactly explained, but designer Lizzie Clachan (a Shunt member, by-the-by) has reconfigured the Upstairs theatre into a restaurant that is supposedly flying through the lower atmosphere. It’s manned by five actors playing the staff, clearly having a whale of a time as they prance around in their retro-future uniforms serving food chaotically. Sometimes they burst into weird, catchy songs about strawberries or livestock. Other times, they switch character to perform in slightly more serious skits: one strand follows a food executive and an ad executive devising a horribly cynical diet shake; in another a first world problem-laden stockbroker occasionally breaks off from his date to answer his phone and fuck over third world farmers on the derivatives market. ‘Gastronauts’ doesn’t hector, more impishly point out how messed up the West’s relationship with food really is – its soufflé-light, intentionally facetious tone only really abates at the end, by which time it feels a little late to be getting all serious on us.
And there’s food! The Royal Court is never going to match the gastronomic wizardry of The Fat Duck – not at these prices, anyway – so perhaps wisely the light dinner we’re served is more of a fun prop than the actual point of the evening (there’s only one course the squeamish need worry about, and it’s avoidable). But sharing food, wine and a table with strangers certainly adds something – it’s an altogether more convivial evening than one normally experiences at the theatre.
‘Gastronauts’ isn’t the most boomingly important work the Court has ever staged, and certainly its sense of fun rather tramples its sense of outrage. But it’s a bloody good night out – I’d come back for seconds.
By Andrzej Lukowski