Chef

Thu 31st July – Sun 17th August 2014

reviews

Claire Murgatroyd

at 22:25 on 8th Aug 2014

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The plot of ‘Chef’ is a simple one. A woman in her prime, achieving her dream of managing a professional kitchen ends up as a convicted inmate, in charge of running the prison kitchen. Perhaps drawing inspiration from the current frenzy over the Netflix drama ‘Orange is the New Black’, it is no surprise how popular this similarly themed piece has become amongst Fringe-goers. Lyricist Sabrina Mahfouz, however, takes what could be a wholesome and saccharine tale of a lovable criminal and turns it on its head, bending the audience’s mind with fantastical language and a painstaking attention to creating thrilling imagery.

The female lead (who is only really known as ‘Chef’) describes how excited and mesmerised by food she is, starting the performance with a five-minute reflection on what makes a perfect peach. The theme of food is – as the play’s title suggests – all consuming (pardon the pun), and in anyone else’s hands, might have been excruciatingly repetitive, but Jade Anouka, the star of the show blew me away.

The plotline may be simple, but the language was brilliant in its variety, breathing a new lease of life into such over-televised themes as creative expression and imperfect families. On occasion, however, not even Mahfouz’s writing can save some parts from being somewhat two-dimensional. For example, the fact that all men in the play are depicted as heartless bruisers, while all the women are misunderstood tortured souls – “sweet as manuka honey and mango” – seems a little simplistic. However, in the grand scheme of this performance, this does not matter much, as the audience is carried away into a world where the pains of violence and despair are surprisingly soothed by as simple a pleasure as a piece of fish.

Performed in the Underbelly’s ‘Big Belly’ stage – a venue which suits the brooding undertones of the monologue well, this is a piece that really deserves even more recognition than it has already got on this year’s circuit. Jade Anouka, in fact, probably deserves an award for her stunning range of emotions and how incredibly bewitching her character bomes. Snapping in and out of her main role, Chef, with an ease that is hard to find, her performance is truly a study in the power a monologue can have. But a word of warning – don’t go to this piece with anything other than a full stomach.

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Amy Peters

at 03:25 on 9th Aug 2014

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It can, understandably, be difficult for a show that comprises only a single set and performer to remain engaging, energetic and entertaining. Chef suffered from no such difficulties. From start to finish, the sold-out audience was riveted, mesmerised by Jade Anouka’s wildly energetic performance that brought to life Sabrina Mahfouz’s words with the deft precision of a truly quality actor.

This spoken word drama told us of Chef’s journey from her troubled childhood, through the heights of her haute cuisine chefing career, to her present day incarnation as a prison inmate assigned to cooking duties. If this had been a mere recitation of Mahfouz’s impeccable writing, Chef would still be worth a watch. However, combining her deliciously lyrical prose with the energy and poignancy of Anouka’s performance resulted in a truly mesmerising piece of theatre.

This story touched on some seriously gritty subject matter, from gang culture and its inherent patriarchy to the age-old familial intricacies of the complicated relationship between parent and child. Yet Chef still managed to incorporate many genuinely funny one-liners, which only served to highlight the gravitas of the production’s darker, meatier moments. Life has always been, and will always be, a messy, complicated mish-mash of the funny and the horrifying, a notion which was explored impressively adeptly by Mahfouz and set aflame by Anouka’s intuitive interpretation.

The production is lent a certain poignancy, particularly with regards to the exploration of Chef’s relationship with her father. The writer’s noble intention with this piece appeared to be to raise awareness of the current blatant inadequacies with our nation’s prison system. Through the medium of honest and engaging art, I believe Mahfouz and Anouka have successfully given the audience some bitter food for thought.

In short, Chef is what you get when you combine top quality acting, intense, politically-charged subject matter and beautifully flowing prose; pretty much exactly what the Fringe is all about.

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