by Sabrina Mahfouz.
Soho Theatre 21 Dean Street W1D 3NE To 4 July 2015.
Mon-Sat 7pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 50min No interval.
TICKETS : 020 7478 0100.
Review: Carole Woddis 19 June.
Dramatic heat and enlightenment.
First seen at Edinburgh Fringe last year, Sabrina Mahfouz’s Chef is deservedly enjoying a second life, sitting perfectly in the heart of buzzy Soho where cafes and restaurants now outnumber the strip-joints for which the area was once more famous.
It is a remarkable piece of writing, comparable in its stylistic fusion of prose and poetry to debbie tucker green. And you can’t say better than that.
No wonder it won a Fringe First. Not only does it find a fresh, moving voice in which to tell harrowing stories of domestic and family violence but in Jade Anouka – a fine Hotspur in Phyllida Lloyd’s all female Donmar Henry IV – it finds an interpreter who sparkily and warmly conveys the optimism and exuberance of its protagonist, even whilst up against the toughest odds.
Chef is about dreams and memories, how food, preparing it, and running a kitchen, come to be the pathway to survival for one young woman. Through her love of food, despite her being convicted of a mercy killing and ending up in prison, the play creates a world of hope.
Mahfouz makes food sing, her descriptions as lovingly evoked as the darker personal demons who inhabit Chef’s life and the inmates around her. She has a luscious literary palate of sensory associations, as lacerating in their accounts of personal violence as they are evocative of culinary delicacy.
It’s cut into sections as if items on a menu; you’ll never look at peaches in quite the same way after Chef starts by alerting us to the intrinsic wonders of the fruit and its creation untouched by human hand, before moving on to more sophisticated dishes and ending with a dessert of red berries flavoured with hibiscus – symbolic of both pain and love. Hibiscus is the favourite of another prison inmate, Candice, who terminates her own existence in front of chef in a sea of blood.
Based on conversations with prison inmates and Michelin-starred chef Ollie Dabbous, Mahfouz’s 50 minute roller-coaster is cooked at just the right temperature by director Kirsty Patrick Ward, whilst Anouka’s is a solo tour de force.
Chef: Jade Anouka.
Director: Kirsty Patrick Ward.
Designer: Fran Reidy.
Lighting: Douglas Green.
Sound: Edward Lewis.
Produced by Just For Laughs Theatricals
First staged at the Underbelly Edinburgh as part of the Festival Fringe 2014. Winner Fringe First 2014.
First performance at Soho Theatre 15 June 2015.