A grand dining spectacle awaits as Geoff Sobelle serves up Food to the Edinburgh International Festival. The theatrical artist transforms the performance space into a colossal banqueting hall, complete with a fully laid-out table. It’s an apt setting to explore the complex relationship between nourishment and performance; culinary arts have long had a place on the stage, just as the rituals of formalised dining have long been suffused with performative drama.
A feast for the eyes with more than a little substance to satisfy the mind as well
Against this backdrop, and through a blend of comedy, illusion and thought-provoking reflection, Food offers an immersive experience that explores our multifaceted connection to what we eat. It takes the audience on a journey from the primal act of consumption to the global complexities of modern production, and Western society’s often estranged relationship with the stuff which sustains us.
During the performance, Sobelle takes on the role of waiter, chef, fisherman, narrator and ultimately guide, ushering onlookers through history, memories, and anecdotes related to food. Members of the audience, the front row of which are seated around the table, are drawn into the performance, reciting tasting notes from a menu of prompts, and sharing their cooking memories, but throughout Sobelle keeps control of the narrative, directing the proceedings with a mixture of humour and solemnity.
There are many moments of wonder throughout, especially when Sobelle and collaborator Steve Cuiffo’s illusions come into play. Whether it's a potato magically growing from a mere seed or an Arctic fish dish leading to an entire table cloaked in the mist of dry ice, these instances create pockets of awe within the storyline.
A section during which the dining table becomes a mesmerising tableau displaying the evolution from agrarian societies to modern-day food production, is also visually arresting – though thematically more heavy-handed than some earlier segments. A section where voracious consumption takes centre-stage is similarly impressive visually, but again leaves little room for thematic subtlety.
Drawing parallels with his previous works, Home and The Object Lesson, Sobelle presents a macro-micro view on universal themes. Food offers an entertaining meditation on the vast topic of our relationship with food, and even if every course isn’t entirely well-balanced, the whole experience is a feast for the eyes with more than a little substance to satisfy the mind as well.