Rarely is theatre such a treat for all the senses, making Gastronauts a unique (and rather delicious) show. Entering the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, exquisitely transformed by Lizzie Clachan’s futuristic design, audiences are invited take a journey to a place where food becomes about much more than mere sustenance.
The show couldn’t be more perfectly timed in the lead-up to Christmas, with the seasonal influx of high profile adverts from supermarkets and chains, all of which encourage indulgence and reckless consumption. In Gastronauts, the ensemble, or rather the ‘crew’ manning this food-odyssey, (Andy Clark, Imogen Doel, Alasdair Mcrae, Nathaniel Martello-White and Justine Mitchell) take us on a theatrical tour of the many issues surrounding our everyday comestibles, encouraging audiences to think twice about what it is they’re putting in their mouths – throughout the show and long after they’ve left the theatre.
The play is full of wonderful moments, such as everyone sharing in a nostalgia-laced cup of lentil soup, evoking one character’s warm family memories. This is then cleverly undercut by a searing scene in which sentimental marketing tactics are mocked, and a comparison is even drawn between obese people and terrorists. This haphazard-seeming structure juxtaposes the pure joy which can be found in food with the moral implications of how corporations make, package and sell it to us, meaning that there is never a dull moment nor any lack of pertinence in this bold and exciting new play.
Gastronauts plays with the idea of the theatre being a place where people will willingly believe in what is not real, going further to suggest that, on a wider scale, responsibility-shirking corporations are, too, feeding us lies. Moreover, the play hints that, by swallowing them, we are entirely complicit in perpetuating the very problems which these giants profit from. Indeed while we watch fresh dough being kneaded, as the ensemble discusses how processed bread is engineered in factories, one performer nonetheless declares that she likes the taste of it regardless. Often there is nothing worse than seeing a play that is simply telling you what is right and wrong. However in Gastronauts, the creators (April de Angelis, Nessah Muthy and Wils Wilson) have instead skilfully underlined the hypocrisy which we have all found ourselves guilty of, with well-drawn and gently probing exchanges which are as entertaining as they are worrying, suggesting we all co-inhabit a moral grey area.
It is hard to resist becoming immersed in the bizarre and compelling world of Gastronauts, with its rich tastes and bold characters, perfectly complemented by Alasdair Macrae’s rousing musical score. From hilarious songs about Sainsbury’s, to deeply touching moments where characters find comfort in cake, it feels as though the play leaves no stone unturned in examining our human need to eat to live – and all the complexities we as a society have generated around such a basic instinct. Certainly, the after-taste that Gastronauts leaves is bittersweet: the fun and frivolity of joining the ensemble on their hilarious and action-packed journey undermined by the pressing concerns the play asks us to consider, making for worthwhile watching.
Gastronauts is playing at the Royal Court until 21 December. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Court Theatre website.