Nothing puts butterflies into the stomach like the prospect of a strange meal in an unfamiliar setting. Perhaps it’s just me – I was a terribly fussy child – but there’s a huge element of trust involved in eating another’s food. Those that usually cook for us come with the backing of inductive reasoning. Restaurants have licences and customer approval. (How often do we reject a restaurant on the basis of emptiness?) Friends and family have history. Beneath this not just the threat of food-poisoning, but the simple uncertainty of taste. Sight and smell, good guides though they can be, can’t fully ascertain whether you should be entirely grateful for what you are about to receive. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.
All of which gives Kindle’s form of digestive theatre a certain je ne sais quoi. Though there are some nice touches along the way, Eat Your Heart Out doesn’t fully capitalise on the potential of its form. As a theatrical experience, it’s more an amuse-bouche, than a satisfying meal in itself. Framed as a banquet at the end of the world, Eat Your Heart Out imagines the cutthroat cookery and scavenging necessitated by disaster. On the menu are such specialities as Asteroid Ash, Coal Bread and Desiccated Butter.
In a dark, dank cavern of a room, a vast platform serves as both stage and table. Three comedia-clown chefs (Samantha Ann Fox, Jessica Mackinnon, Emily Ayres) and a contorted hostess (Nina Smith) explain the circumstances – or deliver a related, expository fable, it’s hard to know which – that this is the final underground remnants of a dismantled society. Dramaturgically, it’s a patchwork quilt that doesn’t quite stitch together. Immersive, experiential theatre clatters up against story-telling, such that one is never quite sure whether one is in the story or outside of it. Are we guests of this post-apocalyptic society or Londoners enjoying a ritualised, fictional banquet? Is the eating central or illustrative? It’s never fully clear.
The same confusion goes for the menu. Where the Asteroid Ash starter, a shot of sharp, tangy and unexpectedly unpleasant powder (a nasty shock that serves to elevate one’s nerves, suggesting further tricks in store), is entirely unplaceable as an eating experience, other courses are altogether familiar. If this starter attempts to alter the theatrical experience with food, the main course reverses that process. Titled Hearty Stew, it is quite clearly a standard beef stew, distorted by the ritual that proceeds it, in which one of the guests is selected for sacrifice. We are, it implies, chowing down on one of our own. The overall event is punctured by differences in its ontology: Kindle need to decide whether they are playing with fiction or reality.
Momentarily, it tickles both tastebuds and funny bones. Edible flowers, which taste unexpectedly as one would expect, and parched butter make the most interesting foodstuffs. There’s something rather lovely about the charred stains left on hands and faces by the coal bread, which only become apparent from the stares of strangers after leaving. It’s as if the meal has marked you.
Nonetheless, Eat Your Heart Out demonstrates potential but disappoints overall. The lack of rigour leaves too many gaps and too much unexplored. More nouvelle than haute, Eat Your Heart Out is undercooked.