Anyone who saw Moira Buffini's Dinner in the West End or in the National's Loft season will know what a delectably tasty combination food and meals can provide as a dramatic device. Decadence, deceit, greed, revenge – they can all be poured into the pot to sizzling metaphorical advantage. Unfortunately, there's not much sign of any of that in Kay Adshead's disappointing Bites.
Ashead's last outing at the Bush was The Bogus Woman, a marvellously moving account of the treatment meted out to asylum seekers, made transfixing by the performance of Noma Dumezweni. Partisan it may have been but thanks to Dumezweni, it was transformed into something far richer and more translucent.
No such mitigating factors enliven Bites, where Adshead's considerable sense of social injustice this time takes a swing at American imperialism and its war-lording foreign policies. Described as a play in `seven courses', Adshead has attempted to make a linkage between over-indulgence and underbelly living in George W Bush's gold-star state of Texas and ravaged Afghanistan.
Perry Como's introductory `Catch a Falling Star', however, should alert us as to what’s to come. We're in a kind of quasi-satire, non-specific, Day of Judgement land but one so incoherently particular to Adshead, it's impossible to fathom where exactly she’s trying to take us.
Titles such as `Star Soup' and `Cold Cuts' may carry significance for Adshead but seem to be almost spurious, ‘Hog Roast’ excepting. Here Adshead just gives it to us almost straight. It’s a barbarous account at a communal BBQ lassooing together culinary gross-out with other violations: a lizard shoot in the backyard and the anal rape of a local Mexican woman. All in fun, you understand.
I suspect Lisa Goldman's production is partly at fault. If you're going for outrage, give it a bit of `grand guignol' wellie, such as Debbie Isitt employed for The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband or even Tim Robbins with his much maligned Embedded.
Goldman's production falls between all stools – neither funny, pungent or meaningful enough to point up Adshead's weird, oblique logic. There may be gold dust in them their hills – empathy with families on both sides of the equation, soldiers in hock to commanders, the madness of global `war on terrorism' – but it sure as hell escapes me at present. Maybe in another time, another place, we might all get the humour of it...
- Carole Woddis