Review: The War on Food

The War on Food

The War on Food | Paper Mountain | Until Sat 20th Feb | ★ ★ ★ ★

If you had told me a year ago that I was somebody who would fall in love with the economics of homegrown food, I would have scoffed in your face. But, this summer has seen our garden exploded in a cavalcade of fresh fruit: oranges, apples, lemons, limes and the most succulent mangoes (better than anything you’d buy in a store) have laden the trees. The best part? We exchange this produce with a fabulous Indian lady down the road for the most invigorating authentic vegan Indian cuisine that makes your blood cells sing. Without this economy, this summer would be so dull.

I’ve found that FringeWorld offers a similar economy, albeit swap the homegrown food for homegrown talent. The rules are the same though: put the effort in and you reap some extraordinary rewards. After all, you know good theatre when you see it and ‘The War on Food’ is good theatre. And the best part? It’s all locally grown and produced, for the people by the people. And yeah, you might have to scurry off to ‘do the drop’, exchanging slips of plastic currency for a moment of magic, but my word it is worth it.

The premise is simple – in a dystopian future growing produce in your own back yard has become illegal (criminal, I know). To make things worse, the mega fresh food brands have conglomerated to form the mega-fascist force Coleworths, otherwise known as The Big C. Here, in their hallowed halls of sterilized shopping experiences, the food is fresh and the service fresher. But the big bite comes from the prices – with the market effectively cornered this mega-chain has the consumer by the broccoli and is able to charge ridiculous prices for produce that is ridiculously poor in quality.

It’s here we meet the emphatic Sage and his best bud Basil, a couple of bros who love a good laugh while toiling the soil for The Big C. When Sage is fired for insubordination and wanting to get his mum some kale, the pair find themselves falling into a clandestine world of revenge and anti-corporate speak, galvanized into action by the salt of the earth farmer, Rosemary. What ensues is a terra-ist act that sees them attempting to bring down The Big C by using the same pesticides the corporation uses on Rosemary’s babies (her potatoes) against the totalitarian system.

Writer and director Zoe Hollyoak has used the space at Paper Mountain to awesome effect. Essentially the work is ‘in the round’, something I am a huge fan of since it creates a far more intimate and visceral experience.

The gallery space becomes a theatrical thoroughfare, with the actors catapulting the length and breadth (and even the height) of it with an electric energy and enthusiasm. For this vital use of a vital space, I commend Hollyoak and her troupe immensely. Yes, as a result the lighting may be ‘meh’ and fail to catch the actors faces at times to full effect, but it’s in the round – this how Shakespeare presented his theatre, and with good reason too…it’s meant to have an immersive feel. It’s organic.

Guiseppe Rotondella as Basil steals the show, which is easy when you’re playing the clown. But his energy is consistently high, his vigor a wondrous cannonball of wig-flying fun (bobby pins, boy, bobby pins). The amount of laughs he garners is brilliant.

That said Raj Joseph as Sage is a very strong lead, his noble good looks used to great effect, his chemistry with Morgan Owen’s Rosemary also quite charming.

Personal fave though was Chloe Evangelisti and I’m not sure why…I think it was the fact that she was so relentlessly commanding and strong, yet still knew how to bend that character to great comedic effect: captivating really.

Toward the end the writing felt a little strained, but only for a moment. Otherwise, the whole work is a brilliant commentary on contemporary culture, our need to be governed, the faith we place in that governance, and what happens when we decide to let our inner anarchist burn the whole thing down.

It’s timely in the sense that we, as a culture and a society, really need to start questioning the faith we place in the corporations that govern us, and in particular the economies that they force us to interact in (here in particular I’m thinking of ‘the reputation economy’ Bret Easton Ellis recently discussed in regards to Facebook).

In particular the show plays on this at the end by questioning the tools that the corporations enable us with – the best part here is that this comment was by and large lost on a majority of the audience, which shows how duped we can become. At what point will any of us have the balls to stand up and say ‘you know what, it’s time for a new corporate model, one that is a mod of incorporation’ and be ready to throw tomatoes instead of capsicums, even though we have no tomatoes to throw…and that’ll make sense if and when you see the show.

Which you must, because there is a wonderful economy of homegrown talent happening here, and it’s important to foster this produce. Fresh in thought and in fun, ‘The War on Food’ will leave you thinking and hungry for more. And considering the ending, there is more to come from this fantastic mob of passionate young creatives. And that’s a good thing…a very very good thing.

Scott-Patrick Mitchell 

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