Pauline is a complete bitch for the majority of the show, but then again Nathalie brings it upon herself by goading her. Gary hams up for the cameras – it’s all just a tactic to try and help him win, but he can’t keep up the act for long. Philip is the obvious frontrunner, his likeability serves him in good stead and his culinary skills are much stronger than the others. A stereotypical champion, he runs a farm and owns a much bigger house than the others, plus he cooks lamb on a bed of hay and makes his own lemon curd. It’s a fix from the start really. But, as with any classic episode of Come Dine With Me, the winning isn’t important, it’s the taking part, or the hilarious comments and backstabbing opinions that only the audience are privy to.
Yes, the above paragraph is all about a TV episode that we as an audience spend the first half of Story #1 watching. Yes, it is in many ways the most bizarre opening to a production I’ve ever witnessed. Each time an ad break rolls on, there is the expectation that the clip will stop and the play will begin. It never does. The story continues and emotional links to the characters are firmly established, each wondering who will win, who will cry and who will end up punching Pauline. Then comes the end few minutes, the big result – who gets that life-changing sum of £1,000? Despite the initial wish for the episode to stop and the theatre to start, the biggest groan and uproar is when as an audience we eventually get our wish… right before we find out the winner.
Rachel Mars and Greg Wohead’s script finally begins, a series of stories into the four pivotal characters after the show. All fictional of course, completely absurd. Nathalie loses everything and ends up potentially dead in a wood; Philip is abducted, tortured and roasted alive on a bed of hay; Gary indulges his fantasy of a threesome; Pauline (we all suspected really) is an alien beamed back to her home planet. Mars and Wohead narrate two outcomes each, funny and awkward with a deadpan delivery each time. Both are apt storytellers, creative and observant when painting new pictures of these characters. When the TV is blaring away, we only care about the programme, the outcome. We don’t wish harm on any of the four contestants of course, but ultimately we crave hilarity – Gary and Pauline’s flirtation going one step too far, or Pauline and Nathalie going to blows over the class divide and their strong opinions on the best seafood. Nathalie can’t eat prawns you see, her mum is allergic.
Mars and Wohead eloquently present their thoughts on the people behind the performance, completely fabricated but in many ways more human. Suddenly the TV programme itself feels more fantastical than Philip’s legs being sawn off with a hacksaw, or Gary being hit in the eye with another man’s cum. Mars and Wohead even reveal to us their creative process – approaching the real people and the level of response they got from each. Pauline seems the friendliest, genuinely touched that the two creators enjoyed the show. Philip is stand-offish and cold – how could he possibly come to London for a play when he has a farm to run in Dorset?
Story #1 seems in so many ways fragmented and confusing. Mars and Wohead give improvised dance routines, porn outtakes play in the background – the connection to the concept is somewhat lacking. But the performance is so much more intense than the pre-recorded show – live, unexpected action trumping fake and forced every time.