Serving up a moveable feast

All you can eat: Graeme Rose serves up his story for the audience to take away. Pictures: Robert Day

Eat!

Birmingham Repertory Theatre at The Roundhouse

****

YOU have to hand it to the Rep. With no theatre to call their own while massive refurbishments take place, the team could have sat back and taken a break. Instead they have taken up the challenge and put together a full programme of productions in a range of unusual settings.

Which is why we found ourselves in the yard of a closed down pub (the Fiddle and Bone) in Vincent Street for this show.

And Eat! makes great use of that space. Four caravans form three sides of a square with a small stage comprising the fourth side. In the centre is a canopy where the audience huddles from the chill winter evening.

Throughout the show the audience is kept moving. We are divided into four groups with each group entering a different caravan to hear a different tale.

Inside each one is a different world, all imaginatively decorated with great attention to detail. We find shelves stacked with cans of food, hidden compartments full of mystery, chairs made from piled up books, and a gaudily decorated homage to romance.

Nia Davies is one of the courses on the menu at Birmingham Rep's Eat!

Each reflects the personality of the people inside the caravan and for roughly 15-20 minutes we are transported into their world and their stories.

Those stories are the result of a series of interviews with people in Birmingham and the Black Country. And all make us realise the impact that food, and our relationship with it, has on our lives.

Some of those stories are painful to hear - a young woman with bulimia, a boy scrabbling for sustenance during war. Others have a touch of tragicomedy about them – a serial bride whose different husbands are all symbolised by the new foods they bring into her life. And others are just a bit zany – puppets made of vegetables and bets over hot chillies.

All the stories are held together by a regrouping in the courtyard and a review-type song on stage. And at the end the audience is encouraged to stay to meet the cast and have a bite to eat.

The whole experience is incredibly sociable. Sitting this close to complete strangers hearing such stories (with the occasional bit of audience participation) brings the groups together. And in doing so it recreates one of the central themes of the show – that food is a social activity; when we share a meal we share something of ourselves.

Created by the Rep with Black Country Touring and Foursight Theatre, Eat! certainly gives us plenty to chew over. An imaginative and fun experience, it also leaves a taste in your mouth – whether that is bitter or sweet will depend on which stories resonate with you.

In this way Eat! is both a sociable but also an intensely personal theatrical experience. In offering us so many different dishes it allows us to create our own responses. And, as we all know, taste is highly individual.

Each person will take something different away from this show and indeed I would suspect that to go on a different night and hear the stories in a different order with different people would also alter the experience.

As such Eat! is a unique night out at the theatre – one I would recommend you bite into. To 27-10-12

Diane Parkes 

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