There are some nights in the theatre which are the equivalent of a lavish three-course meal while others are like tasty inexpensive snacks; this play set in a Chinese restaurant, however, has little nutritional value and tastes overwhelmingly of theatrical monosodium glutamate. At the end I still felt hungry and ready to get my teeth into something more filling.
Translated from the original German text by Roland Schimmelpfennig, this production by the Actors Touring Company was at the Traverse during the Edinburgh Fringe and is now running at the Arcola, so someone obviously thinks it's a good piece of writing. I beg to differ. At £17 for a show running around an hour, it struck me as distinctly over-priced for what it delivered. Directed by Ramin Gray, it is a whimsical piece of theatrical deconstruction with a distinct air of 'Look-at-us-aren't-we-clever!' The production style could be described as extreme anti-realist -- men play female roles and vice-versa, young actors play elderly parts and so on. There is a minimum of props and costumes, and the dialogue is peppered with stage directions -- 'short pause'. The idea seems to be to take Brechtian alienation and push it to see how far it will go, demystifying all the usual theatrical language and technique that lets the audience suspend its disbelief.
The play itself is a billed as a 'tragicomic tale of globalisation' but it's more a case of theatrical arseing around. It's a series of incomplete fragments of story and character, centred on the eponymous Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese restaurant, where a young kitchen boy is about to have a bad tooth extracted. Elsewhere in the building, other characters pursue other stories. There are elements of oriental fable, but the deliberate attempt to deconstruct the usual magical rules of theatre places the actors in an impossible situation. Nothing they can do is plausible. The best climax to this show would be to take theatrical deconstruction to its logical conclusion and pay the audience for attending.