EIF: FOOD @ The Studio

Geoff Sobelle's new show FOOD brings a sense of mischief and spectacle to the Edinburgh International Festival, but lacks polish and intimacy

Review by Josephine Balfour-Oatts | 14 Aug 2023
  • FOOD

Created and performed by Geoff Sobelle, FOOD examines mass contemporary rituals of consumption and food production, in relation to personal histories of eating. Sobelle, our head waiter (and resident wind-up merchant), patrols the perimeter of an enormous dining table. Audience members in the front row act as diners; a chandelier shimmers above their heads, lamps glimmer in the half-dark. On the wall, a painting shows what could be a feast, a dance – possibly a war. 

Co-created with magician Steve Cuiffo, the piece is marked by mischief and illusion. Eggs are broken into a bowl and served raw. A mechanical Arctic chard is fished from beneath a sheet of ice. A baked potato is planted and unearthed before being plated, piping hot, and wrapped in foil. Sobelle later gorges on these spoils and more, appearing to – quite literally – inhale the feast in front of him. While these tricks are impressive, their significance is to be questioned – their execution questionable. It is easy to spot the joins as foodstuffs disappear up Sobelle’s sleeves, into his lap, or under the table.

The combination of Isabella Byrd’s lighting design and Tei Blow’s sound design evokes the cold opulence and extravagant nature of fine dining. Though spectacular, this facilitates an unfortunate lack of intimacy throughout. At the table, conversations do not occur organically, nor do the personal reflections by audience members participating in the food-world of the play. Exchanges are manufactured or elicited – as the menu also functions as a script, it is the diners that cater to Sobelle.

In FOOD’s final act, Sobelle tears away the tablecloth, revealing a field. Sheaves of wheat crop up through the soil. Grain is processed, distributed and disposed of. There is fire, oil. The diners share out model trucks, navigating houses and high-rise blocks, and it is clear that this is where the focus should have been all along. Here, the despoilment of the land by humans, the potential for personal and public impact, and the tensions between culture and agriculture, are delicately yet devastatingly realised.

FOOD, The Studio, until 26 Aug (not Mondays), 8pm, and 22, 26 & 27 Aug, 2pm, £28-40, single seats only