Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): Chef at Underbelly (Venue 61). Review by Sally Stott


Get anyone who loves making food to talk about it and even the plainest dish will seem like the most delicious, wonderful and nourishing thing in the world. It’s a skill that writer Sabrina Mahfouz shares and brings to life through the story of a chef – played with infectious exuberance by the wonderful Jade Anouka – who goes from working in a swanky restaurant to running a prison kitchen. How has this woman, in her white overalls standing by a shiny silver work surface, ended up in jail? Through a one-hour monologue – rich with lyricism, poetry and imagery that is sometimes beautiful and sometimes visceral – we find out.

Behind our narrator’s bubbly demeanour is someone who has suffered a lot at the hands of others – particularly men. Whether it’s a boyfriend who “cuts women’s skin”, an absent father, or a boss who decides choking is a reasonable punishment for dropping some customers’ food – each feels like they could have been the one to push her towards violence.

The delicately designed dishes she speaks of come from a very different world to the one she has grown up in; soup that is always called “broth” and something delicious involving “the perfect peach” which is worth spending hours trying to find.

Compared with watching someone have their eyeballs scraped out with a knife, it’s easy to see why it’s all so appealing.

Kirsty Patrick Ward’s direction is as sharp and crisp as a fresh salad, and the simple but slick production allows Mahfouz’s words and Anouka’s upbeat delivery to carry the show along. At a time when books are being banned in prisons, one woman’s story becomes a way of personalising the experiences of many, and the art of creating spectacular dishes a means of “keeping dreams alive”.

Until 24 August. Today 6:10pm, more info

Originally published in The Scotsman

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