Trash Cuisine, Young Vic (Maria), London – review

Two years ago, a number of the playlets in Belarus Free Theatre’s Eurepica compilation utilised food in making comments about human and environmental abuses. This approach drives the whole of Trash Cuisine, which I am afraid sees this brave company (banned from performing and regularly imprisoned in their homeland, Europe’s last dictatorship) lose much of both its defiant playfulness and its authority.

The piece’s episodes, based on true stories of judicial and extra-judicial executions and torture around the world, mostly follow the same broad template: wordless physical sequences depicting either abuse or analogues of it, in parallel with food (actual or imagined) being prepared or eaten, atop a narration of real events (live, audio-recorded or projected in text captions). Little of it, however, strikes us in a new enough way to jolt us out of our compassion fatigue.

Some of it is just plain puzzling: why, for instance, portray human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith’s recorded account of the execution of Nicky Ingram in Georgia, USA as lip-synched by upmarket diners and supper-lounge jazz musicians? It might be intended to make the point that these activities and those take place in the same world, but does it not also look plain flippant? At another point, Stephanie Pan shows herself an able taiko drummer, but her performance is given no context of any kind and so seems quite meaningless. When the piece might hit a British audience hardest – when it deals with the last death sentence passed in this country, against a man convicted of the murder of a soldier in Northern Ireland in 1973 (a conviction obtained using torture, commuted to imprisonment and later quashed) – it makes the bizarre claim that only 467 deaths occurred during the Troubles, a figure which by any remotely comprehensive count is some 3,000 too low. (More than that number were killed in 1972 alone.)

So much of the work on show here has been done before and better; Pan’s sequence of “impersonating” various methods of execution manages, disconcertingly, to echo the early work of both British comedian Al Murray and American musician Diamanda Galás. As I say, the Free Theatre themselves have visited this performance territory before. The final sequence of the (overlong) 100-minute piece entails chopping up industrial quantities of onions; the company may, I suppose, be parodying themselves and recognising their need to elicit our tears artificially.

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