Theatre Royal Norwich – until 22 September 2018
Every follower of Bake Off or MasterChef knows you get half the marks for initiative and half for execution – so even though still in development by the enterprising curious directive company – Gastronomic, at Theatre Royal Norwich’s black box Stage Two, is already on its way to a firm handshake from Paul Hollywood.
It is a breathtakingly clever fusion of food and theatre: seated around a baggage/sushi belt, the audience is served seven consecutive and artfully arranged courses from some outstanding Norwich chefs – the bites may be tiny, but the presentation is superb and the concentration of flavour and texture often worthy of the patron saint of molecular cuisine himself, Heston Blumenthal.
However, viewers of TV food programmes also know that when the presenter calls ‘time’ you get judged on what you’ve made, not what you’d like to have finished, so where things are a little more soggy-bottomed is in the drama.
We are in the underfloor galley of a double-decked Airbus A380 on a bizarre itinerary which seems to include Beirut, Boston and Lima – no airline flies that triangle – and an underwritten plot in which a supernumary trainee chef may or may not be an illegal immigrant. This is supposed to be an augmented reality experience – but the VR visual headsets weren’t ready so we had just headphones to enhance the experience. That much was realistic, because I eat every airline meal while also watching a movie.
The food is the star turn – champagne and grapefruit ‘cumulus cloud’ was a deliciously bracing palate cleanser, and other outstanding successes among the 75 ingredients included dried pea and lavender dust as a surprisingly satisfying accompaniment to flame-grilled hake and a stunningly deconstructed Bakewell tart featuring saffron, Darjeeling tea and citrus. In the fish course, whoever decided capers could be deep fried is a genius.
Elsewhere, the team could make the user experience more like passing through an airport – maybe handing out boarding passes rather than tickets, asking the ushers to behave a bit more like cabin crew, choosing more plane-like seating and lighting, and possibly making the event interactive. A bit more ‘doors to automatic, put your seat backs in the upright position’ and a little active engagement for the customers might compensate for the sketchy plot and the fact the writers clearly have only limited knowledge of how airlines work.
This is also the only plane, real or virtual, I’ve ever been on where I wasn’t offered a drink. And there wasn’t a call bell to ping.