Writer: Karen Blixen
Adaptor: Glyn Maxwell
Director: Bill Buckhurst
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Beginning “In a place no one knows…at the end of the world…”, Karen Blixen’s Babette’s Feast sets off on a “once upon a time” road, establishing itself as a fable/fairy tale at least one move away from reality. We learn that, in this idyllic place, two sisters and their father occupy a yellow house, at which everyone is made to feel welcome.
A few weeks ago, the Print Room staged Out of Blixen, an overview of the Danish writer’s life and works and they follow it with this full adaptation of one of her stories, possibly best known from a 1987 film version with the same title. As an appetiser the wandering Babette narrates the story of one of the sisters, Martine (Whoopie Van Raam) thwarting the amorous advances of a young army officer (Ladi Emeruwa). For the hors d’ouuvre, she tells of the other sister, Philippa (Rachel Winters) meeting a renowned opera singer (Henry Everett) and being tempted to sing opposite him in Don Giovanni.
For the main course, Sheila Atim’s proud and dignified Babette knocks on the door of the older Martine (Diana Quick) and Philippa (Marjorie Yates), their father (Joseph Marcell) having died. She is a refugee from revolution-torn Paris where she had been a chef at a top restaurant. When, after many years of sanctuary with the sisters, good fortune comes her way, she pays for and prepares a magnificent feast for them and other townsfolk to celebrate what would have been the father’s 100th Birthday. Through the spinsters Martine and Philippa and the wasted culinary “artist” Babette, Blixen reflects ruefully on unfulfillment, but she tempers this with mellow tones of contentment in simplicity and homeliness.
Director Bill Buckhurst looks for parallels with modern refugee crises when kindnesses given and repaid emerge as themes and, with only a small company, he uses movement and music to generate a strong sense of community spirit in the devoutly Christian Scandinavia
There are tasty bites aplenty, but adaptor Glyn Maxwell does not move far enough away from Blixen’s original style of narration to allow room for meaningful character development and, as a result, the production overall feels slightly undercooked.
Runs until 3 June 2017 | Image: Nobby Clark