Writer: Nick Ahad
Director: Stefan Escreet
Designer: Martin Johns
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
The Chef Show is almost impossible to rate as a theatre production. It is not the most challenging script or production you will come across, but in its own field it’s a five-star top-of-the-range effort: it is beyond doubt the best “fusion of play and cookery demonstration” this reviewer has encountered. Then again, does the reviewer grade the quality of the vegetable biriyani as well as the performance? (At Marsden Mechanics it was very good!)
Director Stefan Escreet had the original idea for The Chef Show while attending a Curry Night cookery demonstration in a village hall. The locals apparently showed great interest in the lives and backgrounds of the “Indian” (in reality Bangladeshi) restaurateurs and chefs. Since then interest in anything to do with cooking seems to have increased exponentially and also, as Escreet notes in the programme, this is a good time to combat the “fear and suspicion that leads to prejudice and hate.”
Nick Ahad proves the ideal choice to write the script about events in an Indian restaurant in a village in the North. His Bangladeshi/Yorkshire background ticks both boxes, his father ran a restaurant, his enthusiasm for cooking and food shines out in his programme notes and his journalistic background fits well with the writing-to-order element in the play.
The play works on several levels, each on its own very straightforward. Rohit Gokani and Kamal Kaan play father and son, the present and future of Abdul’s Restaurant. Between them, they represent a generational divide on the question of whether the visitors to the restaurant are friends, their guests, or simply customers. Gokani and Kaan also play multiple characters in the restaurant on a Saturday night – a Godberish snapshot of people at work, with a basic realism overlaid by rather exaggerated instant characterisation. But they are also themselves, the actors who are doing this, and as such they share facts about Indian restaurants or the province of Sylhet or debate what things they need to explain to the audience who are, as they struggle to say with political correctness, Caucasian.
However, the most original feature is the presence on stage of a chef from a local Indian restaurant – in the case of Marsden, Monsoon Tandoori Restaurant of Slaithwaite. Periodically, the actors stop the action to question him about ingredients, spices or a chef’s life and all the time he carries on cooking – a different dish for tasting in the interval or at the end.
Within the ambitious format, things are done simply. The newly-formed Ragged Edge Productions have put together a 20-odd date tour of village halls, arts centres, theatres and even one Indian restaurant, and the setting is suitably basic, a couple of tables and chairs and a practical cooker. Gokani and Kaan are engaging performers, rather self-effacing in themselves, but both capable of extravagant caricature, notably of the female characters who come to the restaurant.
Touring Regionally | Image: Darren Andrews