By Karen Blixen
Adapted by Glyn Maxwell
Coronet Print Room at Notting Hill Gate until June 3
90 minutes, without interval.
Review: Tom Aitken, 15 May 2017
Food for thought
This play, along with a film starring Stephane Audran (Academy Award for Best Foreign Film,1987), are based on a novel by Karen Blixen, a Danish woman who used the pen name Isaak Dinesen. She had worked for much of her life on a farm in Kenya but had eventually had to return, somewhat resentfully, to Scandinavia, following divorce and the bankruptcy of the previously successful farm.
Her novel Babette’s Feast fairly obviously relates, at least metaphorically, to her life experience.
In the book, Babette has been a sous chef in Paris but has been driven back to Scandinavia following the political upheavals of the 1870s. She takes a job as a housekeeper to a pair of sisters in an isolated village on the shores of the North Sea.
Eventually she is emboldened to present a dinner reminiscent of her Parisian days to mark a family birthday on the bleak coast of the North Sea. The family themselves are bemused and, at first, highly suspicious of the sophisticated recipes she uses. Some of the wines she introduces (she has some money of her own and she pays for all the food and drink consumed) go a long way towards winning the villagers around.
If you haven’t seen the film, get hold of a DVD at once. But also, if you possibly can, get to Notting Hill Gate in time to see this play.
The casting, of course, is colour blind, and, there’s nothing but the words in the script to convey the remote background of Parisian wealth and glamour. But you will have no trouble at all in following the tussle involved in Babette’s determination to get her own way, faced as she is by the suspicions and bemusement of the family.
And you will be both inspired and amused by the adaptations that the puritanical country folk undergo in order to allow the meal to take place.
And, finally, you will give thanks for the ability of people to adapt themselves to unexpected circumstances –– and to take what enjoyment they can from the experience of so doing.
Cast: Sheila Atim, Amanda Boxer, Norma Atallah, Henry Everett, Ladi Emeruwa, Richard Clews, Diana Quick, Majorie Yates, Joseph Marcell, Whoopee Van Ram and Rachel Winters.
Director: Glyn Maxwell
Designer: Simon Kenny
Lighting: Amy Mae
Sound: Harry Johnson
Singing Coach Jessica Walker