Chef at the Soho
Much modern theatre seems to be based on how naturally a playwright and their actors can flit between one mood and another. The more drastic the juxtaposition and the smoother the transition, the more entertaining the play. Sabrina Mahfouz’s Chef demonstrates magnificently how this technique can be used not only for comic effect, but to create intense emotional empathy and drama.
A one-woman show, this play features a chef who, in one blazing monologue, charts her story from the estate to Michelin star to prison. There’s suicide, murder, adultery, incest – essentially, there’s enough meat in her tale to serve a feast, and it might all be a bit stomach-churning if actor Jade Anouka wasn’t on hand to cut it up and deliver it to us in a snappy yet seamless, frivolous yet deeply affecting way.
Anouka shows incredible dexterity in her performance range. Her glittering eyes dance between fear, joy, sobriety and playfulness in the blink of an eye, and even in that blink you feel you miss a trick. Her presence on stage doesn’t demand attention, instead it lures the audience in until you find you’re grimacing at the grimy bits and smiling in sync with the smiley bits without even realising. Buzzing with energy from the get go, it naturally took Anouka a minute or two to get into her stride and to gain an affiliation with the audience, but her fearless performance and unabashed cheekiness soon had the heart warmed right through. The skill with which she controlled the constant blasts of energy and emotion was absolutely thrilling to behold.
Anouka’s agility was the perfect complement to Mahfouz’s rich, lyrical writing. Poetic diction blends effortlessly with colloquial to create that all-important contrast between pain and solidity, drama and the quotidian. Similes are shot out like crossword clues, tricky but indelibly rewarding.
The combined skill of Mahfouz’s writing and Anouka’s performing assimilates the unbelievable into something painfully real and tangible. Chef offers a gripping scrutiny of the angry and lonely human condition, but more touching than the tales told is the stolid, powerful young woman still standing at the end.
Chef is on at the Soho Theatre until 4th July 2015, for further information or to book visit here.