Eloise and the Curse of the Golden Whisk -The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Devised by the company
Co-Directors: Tom Brennan and Helena Middleton
Reviewer: Kris Hallett

In 1944 Arthur’s is struggling after the family run restaurant was decimated two years earlier in an air raid attack. Unable to attract diners, still grieving over the catastrophic loss of his family in the attack and in need of a chef who can pour imagination into the kitchen, the restaurateurs’ prayers are answered when Eloise, a young French girl with a talent for whipping up a dish turns up having escaped Nazi-occupied Paris. So far so formulaic, and

So far so formulaic, and Eloise and the Curse of the Golden Whisk makes sure never to stray far from the fairy story templates. A golden whisk allows her to turn her culinary talents into box office gold, her take on lentil soup and spam fritters packing out the restaurant. It comes at a cost, though, the whisk permanently attached to her hand and a curse that within three days will turn her forever into gold. Yet though its story may not host surprises, it is laced with the Wardrobe Ensemble’s customary use of music, close-knit ensemble playing and inventive staging, ensuring it is a show with plenty of charm and heart.

Originally commissioned by Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre as last year’s Christmas show it has gone through a painless relocation of setting from wartime Exeter to Bristol. If the accents employed are more generic West Country then Bristolian burr, it at least means there haven’t been wholesale changes to the work, a list of local place names at one point easily substituted in little more than a quick wiki scan. If this is general it is the focus on specifics that really help make this still young company stand out. It’s a work that finds details in its period, the costumes and melodies and the plummy dulcet tones that BBC radio presenter that Tom Brennan slips into all speak of a heightened authenticity. For a piece devised and honed in a rehearsal room by a company of millennials very few anachronism’s slip in.

On their return to Bristol they were greeted with a rapturous reception yetit was a shame none of the target audience were in. The first week back at school may have kept families away but I suspect if they had been in, they would have grown restless at an overlong first act, but captivated by some of the set pieces including a thrilling airplane adventure that buzzes with all the aviation action of Twelve O’Clock High.

The five-strong cast essay multiple roles in a night of nonstop work. Jesse Meadows’ Eloise is the beating heart bringing warmth and vulnerability to the role of the resourceful chef still haunted by her abandonment of her occupied home. James Newton’s Arthur is the conventional Englishman of the 40s, his exasperated exclamations of ‘Uncle Jonathan’s trousers’ falling somewhere between Enid Blyton and Charles Hawtrey. The final moments when he tries to declare his feelings for Eloise in broken French with the use of silent movie surtitles is the best French wooing scene since Shakespeare’s. Brennan who also co-directs is a stand out, particularly as Sebastian, the spiv, who gets more than he bargained for when he tries to lug gold while Hanora Kamen as the old grandma and Kerry Lovell as the slinky criminal overlord both have plenty of fun while providing razor sharp harmony lines in the a capella numbers.

The Wardrobe Ensemble has already produced a highly-acclaimedshow this year in1972:The Future Of Sex. If this is slightly less accomplished there is still plenty in there to convince this is a company to pledge allegiance to. So thankfully Bristol Old Vic have swooped in and commissioned them for this year’s Christmas show. Call it an early stocking treat.

Runs until 17September 2016 | Image: Contributed


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