Following last year’s Minsk 2011: A Reply To Kathy Acker, Belarus Free Theatre returns to the Young Vic to cook up another concoction of provocative, thought-provoking theatre.
This time, the chef’s special is capital punishment, a theme that the controversial and persecuted theatre company encapsulate in an intense theatrical experience that combines hard-hitting stories of victims and executioners with a rather unsettling penchant for food.
What begins as a soothing, melancholic evening of music soon morphs into a violent and disturbing series of tales, which the cast recounts in an uncomfortably nonchalant and detached manner as they tuck into generous helpings of the chef’s dishes, digressing indifferently to discuss their everyday pastimes as individuals are stripped and executed before them.
Food acts as a recurring theme throughout the production, be it here, merely as a glaring juxtaposition to the distressing events unfolding around them, or, more literally, to tell the tale of a woman whose husband murders their children, cuts them into small pieces and fries them on a stove before ripping open her stomach and sewing the pieces inside.
The smell, though similar to the mouth-watering odour that often emanates from steak restaurants across the capital, becomes nauseating within the gruesome context of torture and death, and, together with the staggering facts that are projected on a white screen at the back of the stage, this is stomach-churning stuff that will make you completely lose your appetite.
There are brief moments of respite as the familiar – but not hugely relevant – words of Shakespeare take over, but soon the audience is propelled back to the play’s dominating motive, as one of the cast embarks on a series of impressions that sees her imitate all of the different ways to administer the death penalty, from a hissing and squeaking gas chamber to a shrill and deafening electric chair.
While Trash Cuisine – written by Nicolai Khalezin and directed by Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada – has no linear narrative, instead presenting a string of stories with a recurring motif, the company’s tightly choreographed routines provide a constant that maintains the flow of the production.
It’s a fascinating melange of the bizarre and affecting, which is likely to reduce you to tears, but, if it doesn’t, the smell of hundreds of savagely chopped onions in the closing sequence certainly will.