A show such as Pass The Spoon could only be born from the mind of artist David Shrigley, and his unique, infantile style transfers surprisingly well into this “sort-of-opera”. It would be more accurate to call this sort-of-everything; there are elements of pantomime, melodrama, and it features pastiches of hymns and musical theatre in the score as much as opera. This is Shrigley’s first attempt at writing something of this length, but considering that the humour in his work is often verbal, this wasn’t going to be a challenge.
The beyond bizarre story follows a cookery show hosted by the always cheery June Spoon (Pauline Knowles) and the always camp Phillip Fork (Stewart Cairns). They are cooking dinner for Mr Granules tonight (a nightmarish, gigantic puppet manned by Tobias Wilson) who is rumoured to have eaten babies. Inevitably, when things go wrong, Mr Granules can’t help but feel peckish.
Before this though, they must make the dinner. This involves interviewing the candidates for the vegetable soup – adorable puppets designed by Shrigley, straight out of a children’s book. They must appeal to an ecclesiastic butcher (sung stunningly by Peter Van Hulle) for him to grant them mercy in the form of homosexual pork chops, and seek assistance from a manic-depressive, alcoholic egg (Gavin Mitchell) and a Latino banana (Martin McCormack) in his pre-banana custard (“yellow bastard”) form. These two actors are outstanding, not just because playing foodstuffs does stand out, but because they’re played physically and vocally as you’d imagine a common-sense banana and depressed egg would act. Strange as that is, the comedy is spot on.
David Fennessy’s music is genuinely innovative and original, going so far as to include bubble wrap and kitchen knives within the composition. When it isn’t mocking conventional genres (take the repetition of opera lyrics, “SOUP! SOUP! SOUP! SOUP! SOUP! SOUP! WHAT KIND OF BLOODY SOUP?”), Fennessy’s score is disturbingly eerie, playing against Shrigley’s script and reflecting the darker undertones of Pass The Spoon. It makes sharp commentary upon human appetite in its twisted way, and at the same time Shrigley’s satirical but self-conscious tone makes opera accessible. There is no snootiness about opera when the audience must clap and chant with the performers rather than waiting until the end of the movement. Director Nicholas Bone has brought together an opera for the twenty-first century. But beyond all this is the achievement it denotes for Shrigley: like a page of his nonsensical doodlings brought to life, only he could make a not-just-an-opera that features a singing and dancing shit successful. Pure silliness, Pass The Spoon is hilarious.
Unfortunately, Pass The Spoon was only revived for two days at the Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, but to find out when it will (undoubtedly) show again, see Magnetic North’s website: www.magneticnorth.org.uk