Gingerline: ‘The Grand Expedition’ review
Time Out says
Gingerline’s latest culinary odyssey mixes mind-blowing food with some iffy national stereotypes
Trying to write a review of ‘The Grand Expedition’ might well be a tremendous exercise in point-missing because Gingerline’s immersive dinner theatre show is all about the joyful thrill of surprise. You’re texted a secret address. Then, after a bit of excitedly milling about in a car park, you get one of the night’s best moments: the one where you step inside a vast space that’s been artfully designed to transport you to a retro world, complete with ’30s style aeronauts, gasp-worthy set pieces and endearing vintage picture-book-style illustrated projections. Oh, and enough food to put Enid Blyton’s most extravagant midnight feast to shame.
Gingerline creators Suzannah Montfort and Kerry Adamson have excelled in creating something that both looks heart-tuggingly, nostalgically gorgeous, and somehow manages to function with military precision. Five carefully tuned courses find their way to each table, through a hubbub of dancing, miming and projected storytelling. They’re designed to be (very mildly) interactive, which means unwrapping an adorable checked cloth parcel of bread, or having a go at artfully arranging dumplings on a plate. The real interaction comes courtesy of a chorus of performers, who invite booze-primed audience members to play a series of increasingly riotous games with them using a series of non-verbal signals – it’s like being in a scout camp for tipsy people, wrangled by outlandishly dressed mime artists.
‘The Grand Expedition’ is tremendously good at sounding some notes: ‘joy’, ‘surprise’ and ‘nostalgia’ are there in abundance, with a side-serving of ‘yum’. Perhaps because of the child-like framing, what it doesn’t offer is much to chew on. There’s no real storyline, and the interactive elements are mostly just larking about, rather than feeding into any greater narrative. Depending on your perspective (and/or level of drunkenness) its worldview might feel shortsighted, rather than endearingly naive, too.
The picture books for kids that it sources its aesthetic from aren’t always innocent: they’re there to inculcate the next generation with their parents’ worldviews, and in the golden age of children’s fiction, those worldviews were unashamedly colonialist. Here, different countries are portrayed by an almost all-white cast frolicking about in sexed-up versions of their national get-ups; painting-by-numbers cultural stereotypes that are retro in all the wrong ways. The ‘Japanese’ section is something to behold, and not in a good way.
In its best moments, ‘The Grand Expedition’ feels vivid and transportative: a great deal of care has gone into almost every moment, from its ever-shifting wall projections and its emotive soundtrack to its cloud-painted toilets. If they put the same care into the narratives it sells, it could really take flight.