Soho Theatre Studio, London
First seen at Edinburgh Fringe last year Sabrina Mahfouz’s Chef deservedly is now enjoying a second life and sits perfectly in the heart of buzzy Soho where cafes and restaurants now outnumber the stripjoints for which the area was once more famously known.
Mahfouz’s Chef is a remarkable piece of writing, comparable in its stylistic fusion of prose and poetry to debbie tucker green. And you can’t say better than that.
No wonder it won a Fringe First. Not only does it find a fresh, moving voice in which to tell harrowing stories of domestic and family violence but in Jade Anouka – a fine Hotspur in Phyllida Lloyd’s all female Henry IV – it finds an interpreter who sparkily and warmly conveys the optimism and exuberance of its protagonist, even whilst up against the toughest odds.
Chef is about dreams and memories, how food, preparing it, and running a kitchen, comes to be the apex and pathway to survival for one young woman. Through her love of food and despite being convicted of a mercy killing and ending up in prison, Chef creates a world of hope.
Mahfouz makes food sing, her descriptions as lovingly evoked as the darker personal demons who inhabit both chef’s life and the inmates around her. Mahfouz has a luscious literary palate of sensory associations, as lacerating in their accounts of personal violence as they are evocative of culinary delicacy.
Cut into sections as if items on a menu, you’ll never look at peaches in quite the same way after Chef starts by alerting us to the intrinsic wonders of the fruit and its creation untouched by human hand before moving on to more sophisticated dishes and ending with a dessert of red berries flavoured with hibiscus – symbolic of both pain and love, hibiscus being the favourite of another prison inmate, Candice, who terminates her own existence in front of chef in a sea of blood.
Based on conversations with prison inmates and Michelin starred chef Ollie Dabbous, director Kirsty Patrick Ward ensures that Mahfouz’s 50 minute roller-coaster cooks at just the right temperature whilst Anoushka’s is a solo tour de force.
Chef runs at Soho Theatre Studio, London to July 4, 2015
First published in Reviewsgate, June 2015