Chef. A cutting edge, mouth-watering drama shocking us through an hour of gourmet dishes. Granted only with the company of one performer, Sabrina Mahfouz’s undeniably brilliant script tempts us into the prison kitchen where Jade Anouka’s chef is brought to life in an electrifyingly tense production. Having won the Fringe First Award in 2014, in this production the Edinburgh Festival Fringe really shows off one of its best success stories.
A steel cold bench. A glare from the artificial lighting. An unlikely setting for the daydreaming, confident woman that enters the space. There is no hint of Gordon Ramsay in this kitchen, just the perfectly friendly connection with Anouka’s chef that engages the whole room instantaneously. In one hour we are honoured to witness the extremes: from sweet to savoury, life to death and love to hate.
Mahfouz’s metallic rhythms slip through the steel cold air, effortlessly prepared by Anouka. It’s the lyrical fluidity alongside the felicitous imagery, that seems to come all too naturally to Mahfouz, that cooks up a storm in the audience. Seasoned with moments of wit, knowledge, politics and legal issues, structured by menu that no one can criticise, it is a privilege to find a playwright that has taken every ounce of care into a production.
Admittedly without Mahfouz’s script there would be no Chef, but Anouka really is the star of the show here. The brave face cannot that stay brave forever. With the dream of becoming a chef but the trauma of her childhood behind her, Chef’s world seems to collapse around her with each and every turn. Firstly her boyfriend, then her father – it is barely possible to imagine these events. Rarely do you get to see an actress as accomplished as Anouka pulling off such a heart-breaking, real story in a way that each of us has something to relate to and can come away thinking about afterwards.
At first we only catch glimpses of the imperfections of Anouka’s character, and of the hidden memories, but as we are led through the recipes that mean so much to the chef, we are exposed to the boiling trauma simmering below the façade of Anouka’s flavoursome dreams. Just one recipe brings out anxiety and memories are brimming, and we are catapulted into the unravelling recollection that has been slicing apart our chef for longer than we think.
Towards dessert we begin to doubt what our chef is really like. Is she telling the truth? What if she really did do what she was blamed for? However, we cannot help but be attached to Chef. With the tossing of intentions and ideas, with the smoking anger, we have no choice but to be entirely enthralled in our chef’s life – whether she is entirely good or bad.
I have no doubt that Chef only gives us a tiny taste of what these two will be able to accomplish in the future, but I have never seen a more deserving and delectable production for all it has achieved so far. This production really is ripe and ready to eat.
Chef is playing at the Soho Theatre until 4 July. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.
Ticket Offer: SohoSolo Season £10 tickets including Chef. For details see here.