This year’s Festival didn’t appear to have an immediately obvious must-see. However, only three days in, I seem to have stumbled across what may turn out to be its absolute hit. Table Manners comprises three pieces which explore the potential minefield of the simple, quotidian act of eating together. It takes place in The Basement and has, unsurprisingly considering the venue’s avant garde credentials, a pinch of audience participation, a soupçon of bamboozling performance art and a light seasoning of – and I mean this approvingly – pretentiousness. Not all the pieces were equally impressive, but taken as a whole it genuinely gave me one of the most vital, exciting and memorable nights at the theatre in perhaps years.
Delia – We’ve been Thinking is a rather slight, amiable amuse-bouche. The audience is invited to a faintly surreal cheese and wine tasting. Comedy wines – Black Tower, Blue Nun and Babycham – are paired with comedy cheeses like Dairylea and Babybell. During the performance we interact with our hostesses who may ask us in front of everyone socially polite questions like what do we do (Me: “Er, I’m here to review you“). But avant garde disorder is soon restored when one rolls up some ham in her mouth, lies on the table, opens and closes her legs whilst stating “I am the buffet“.
Exterminating Angel has five people trapped in a dinner party from which no one can escape. The middle-class dinner party is almost a cliche setting for simmering resentments and the breaking of social taboos. But Future Ruins’ play doesn’t settle for the crowd-pleasing, almost comforting, bickering of a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Instead it presents something harrowing and discomforting which does menace as well as Pinter. It’s also blackly, horribly funny. The cast is just brilliant: they actually made me think (and those of a Daily Mail disposition should look away now) that there can be something heroic about the art of acting.
The Honest Crowd’s Glasshouse takes a five-minute dinner party conversation and gives it a 12-inch remix as we hear it repeated for about half an hour. Sometimes bits are missed out, other bits are repeated, or it slows down as the dramaturgical DJ plays it at the wrong speed. Hypnotic, funny and baffling it, like Exterminating Angel, will live in the memory years after I’ve forgotten the most intelligently directed, exquisitely costumed and impeccably acted piece of straight theatre.
Continues at the Basement until Wednesday May 8.