Although it seems to be billed as cabaret, this engaging piece of light-hearted satire is a short play, to all intents and purposes, with comic skits and some bracing mime inserted into the narrative. The targets of its satire are perhaps not wholly dreadful enough to be worthy of its creator Lily Bevan’s wacky, frivolous brand of absurdism. These are on the one hand celebrity chef and restaurant culture, and on the other, the extreme pretentiousness that seems sometimes true of things French, at least from the Anglophile perspective. If you’ve ever laughed about either of these then you’ll certainly enjoy this.
Talk of Eugène Ionesco meets ‘Allo ‘Allo! is not far wrong, in the sense that Ionesco’s absurdist target was often bourgeois humbug and the conformism created by consumerism, while ‘Allo ‘Allo!, being a ridiculous comedy about the French resistance, is indicative of Britain’s ambiguous and ambivalent love affair with France. It’s the same kind of territory in a way that has made Stephen Clarke’s 1000 Years of Annoying the French such a bestseller. We’ve all encountered a rude French waiter in Paris who thought you weren’t really good enough to be eating there (and perhaps he was right): it is part of the traditional pleasures of a visit to La Ville-Lumière (the City of Light).
Jeremy Stockwell, the movement director, is Le Coq-trained, and it shows in some excellent fluid movement within the chaos that quickly begins to ensue: there is some extremely funny and expertly done mime. Alys Metcalf is a wonderful waitress who never speaks but sings little French numbers to try to entertain the guest, and, with Fred Machin as the Head Waiter, shows she has real talent for mime.
Set in a little French restaurant in Britain, there are three tables of fans of celebrity chef Roly Ryan: a couple celebrating an anniversary, a group at a birthday party, and a guy who is only too anxious to impress his first date. Mike Wozniak’s Roly produces some inspired madness somewhere between a gangly Basil Fawlty and a more demented version of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, as he reduces everyone’s hopes to complete disaster. He’s a manic, long-term drug user and his main dish is squirrel while his first course is duck roulade with raisins and kumquats (made up while he was drunk at his parents’ at Christmas): but the humour about food is actually much funnier than even the menu at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant (even though his snail porridge always has me in stitches). It isn’t just puncturing the pretensions of foodies everywhere, but also that gravitas that everything French attracts as far as the British concerned: we are laughing at ourselves as believers in celebrity restaurants as much as the French. Some sharp witticisms round off an enjoyable evening, and if I had any celebrity chef friends I’d recommend them to go and see this, as well as everyone else.
Saturday Night at Cafe Red, the Frenchest chain restaurant in town - with strings of onions, checked table cloths, and candles in wine bottles to prove it. But this is a night of change, of fresh ideas - visiting Celebrity Chef Extraordinaire Roly Ryan is in the kitchen whisking up trouble. How can he know his diners have also brought their own unusual ingredients to the table? An evening of love, of awkwardness, danger and mime. This tasty black comedy will surprise and delight. Bon App?tit.
Trafalgar Studios14 Whitehall
London Greater London United Kingdom SW1A 2DY
Duration: 1h 10m
Mike Wozniak in Celebrity Night At Cafe Red © Pete Le May
Full Cast in Celebrity Night At Cafe Red © Pete Le May
L-R Alys Metcalf & Fred Machin in Celebrity Night At Cafe Red © Pete Le May