With the teaser image of a banana on a plate and a blurb that includes previous accolades listed on its promotional material, Cooked promises to be a darkly comic rom-com where a new beau on the first date meets the new date's ex who has reluctantly agreed to cook them dinner. To say this would be met with disappointment is vastly understating the experience.

Some lines are so overdone in their content and their delivery that it’s like watching an old war melodrama.

We are first introduced to Lucy with a newborn baby. She turns out to be the new beau, Adam’s, sister but this is only made clear in the second scene. Instead, we spend roughly 20 minutes with Lucy and Adam in a scene reminiscent of an 80s TV sit-com, which nobody expects as the whole premise of the play is that Adam is going to dinner. He’s met a guy in a bookshop and is going on a date. We did not need 20 minutes backstory for that. Acting realistically with a prop that’s supposed to be a baby is tricky but should not be impossible, yet it’s barely credible here. This opening had some obvious gags which the audience at this viewing didn’t laugh at, including a very unfunny massaging of breasts scenario which was uncomfortable to watch. This opening was more like watching a school play than a Fringe production.

The idea of the ex meeting the new beau is an interesting one, but there is nothing new in this play. The second scene where Adam (played by John Black) meets Henry (played by Tobias Clay) is really lovely. Henry peels a carrot and prepares food with such anger – it’s very funny. His attempt to ignore the guest while singing angrily to tunes, whilst Adam tries to be polite and diplomatic, is very entertaining. An extension of this scene as the main meat of the play would have been a lovely two hander, in the safe hands of two good actors, portraying their characters with sensitivity and humour. However, this play suffers from very poor directing: the interplay between the characters, except for the scene mentioned above, just seem forced and not believable. There is no chemistry between Adam and his new date Brett, there is no chemistry between old lovers Brett and Henry, and not much between Adam and Henry either. Some lines are delivered as if they are being read, others are just inaccurate, including a line about little black dots in crème anglaise being vanilla pods, (they are of course the inside of a vanilla pod), which may seem like a small thing, but so much is made of Henry being a good chef, and any budding chef would know that. It’s unclear whether that is one of the many writing inaccuracies or whether it’s a director error but the outcome is the same. Some lines are so overdone in their content and their delivery that it’s like watching an old war melodrama.

The plot leaves much to be desired and unfortunately the ending can also been seen a mile off, as there was no reaction from the audience at this viewing. The scenes with the baby are just bad. If the direction had been tighter and more effective this could have been more interesting to watch, although the plot would still need serious rewriting. For example: a new mum who has not returned to work, with a very young newborn, refers to case files which she would not have access to. Maybe some of the jokes would have been funny if they had been directed differently but it’s quite hard to tell because they were just not funny. The only thing that lifts this whole show from being awful is the Adam and Henry scene. This seems more a first draft work in progress than a finished play.

Reviews by Susanne Crosby

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The Blurb

A darkly-funny rom-com by Natalie Audley. Henry and Brett live together and used to be an item. Now, Brett has a date with a younger student, Adam. All is well until Brett is called away on business, leaving Henry and Adam to see what they have in common, if anything. Directed by Richard Evans-Thomas. One of the winners of last year's Rialto Theatre Scratch Night, 'Cooked' is Unmasked Theatre's second offering at this year's Brighton Fringe. Previous company credits include the smash hit 'The Writers' Bloc' (shortlisted for Best New Play, Brighton Fringe 2017), 'Hove, Actually' and 'Cream'.