The Little Table of Delights at Bristol Old Vic

little table

Theatre Damfino have created a vibrant and memorable family show, which all four of us would highly recommend.

The children were welcomed into the basement at The Old Vic and seated around a long ‘Hogwarts’ style table. They settled happily and after a quick wave to their parents behind them on the balcony, turned their attention to the show.

Directed by Katy Carmichael and ‘starring popular Old Vic regular’ Tristan Sturrock (as French Head Waiter), The Bristol Post describes The Little Table of Delights as ‘’another innovative Theatre Damfino collaboration, with chefs Matt Williamson and Claire Thomson of Bristol restaurant Flinty Red…’’

A white screen displayed a montage of brightly coloured photographs, depicting the journey of food from field to plate. Facing the children stood the actors in a line, dressed in chef whites. To one side stood ‘Banjo Brian’ (aka Benji Bower, the genius behind the music of this year’s Old Vic production of Jane Eyre), his Music trolley arrayed with a fine assortment of instruments. Behind him, under the balcony, hung a row of musical pans.

One of the actors leapt onto the table, promising to wait on the children, tell enthralling tales about their food and get the chef to transform these foods into delectable dishes for them to try. With a flourish, the lid covering a golden domed platter in the centre of the table, was lifted to reveal the head of the ‘Le Maitre Dee’ himself. Surrounded by a wealth of artisan breads, the ‘head waiter’ introduced the first act.

The show was divided into five acts:

Act 1 – The Story of Bread, an ancient art, invented in the Stone Age and                  perfected throughout the ages.
Act 2 – The Heart rending Tragedy of the Love Struck Beetroots
Act 3 – The Explorers in search of rich spices
Act 4 – Milk, Cheese and Eggs – The Circus Show
Act 5 – The Honey Bee

A recurring theme throughout the performance was the adept use of rhyme in the style of ‘This is the house that Jack built.’ - ‘This is the field, which grew the crop, the farmer cut to harvest the grain, the miller ground to make the flour, the baker used to make the bread…’ You get the idea…

Many props were used to dramatic effect, like the sheaf of wheat and the covered platter of soil. The children happily tucked into samples of food during each of the acts, while ‘Banjo Brian’ entertained with his wide variety of musical styles: some rousing and catchy, like the reggae song: ‘Breads of the World’ and some solemn and soulful, as befitting the untimely demise of the dancing beetroots in Act Two, my favourite part.

‘Banjo Brian’ took his guitar, and in Spanish style, sang a serenade to a specially chosen member of the audience, who was also presented with a goblet of ‘wine’, a rose and the golden, domed platter. As the cover was removed, the actors appeared shocked to find a pile of soil beneath. They apologised profusely before speedily removing the platter.

Act 2, take two, saw two of the actors begin to cajole a couple of beetroots and launch them into ‘a full-blown beetroot animation’.

‘’Let us introduce you to Betty and Bert, two beetroots with their roots in a long line of root vegetables’’, they began with a laugh. ‘’Betty and Bert fell in love.’’, they continued. ‘’They ventured through the rain and over mountains…’’ The actors marched the beetroots up and down the length of the table, whilst menacingly, in the background, a couple of chefs began to sharpen their knives. The actors continued with these dramatic words, “Little did they know what the farmers had in store for them…’’ words which Matthew could recall by heart, and which made him shudder to repeat!

And thus it was that the beets met their ‘bloody’ end. The chef whipped Betty and Bert onto the chopping board and sliced them up. At this point, the actors raised a white sheet to shield the children from this gruesome sight. Thus ended the tale of Betty and Bert. At which point, to lighten the mood, the children were served a portion of beetroot jelly and chocolate cake on a white plate. We were told that, ‘’Never before had there been two beets, whose hearts beat as Betty and Bert’s,’’ and ”That was the cake and jelly made from our two beets called Betty and Bert.’’ Here ‘Banjo Brian’ played a soulful lament on the saxophone.

I looked at the line of faces smiling across the table. What a cleverly crafted show this was turning out to be.

Matthew’s favourite part was the storm in Act 3 – The Explorers in search of rich spices.

The children were told how explorers travelled thousands of miles across the world to carry these spices home. An actor paced up and down the table to illustrate this journey to the sound of the harp and the chimes. When he mentioned Christopher Columbus, Sarah’s face lit up. We had been talking about him on the journey up. With Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer, he set sail on an expedition from Lisbon on the 18th July 1497. They returned home with some of the spices we know today.

An actor had the children spellbound as he began to chalk the route they took along the table, handing out flags at the countries where they docked along the way. When he reached the end of the table, a small wooden flagship lay in wait. This ship was passed back from one child to another along the same route.

As the ship made its return journey, a wild storm blew up. A ghostly voice repeated the word ‘scurvy’ over and over again and pronounced the death of many sailors from the lack of ‘their five a day!’

Matthew thought ‘’the part where the ship was travelling back through the storm was quite scary!’’ He told me that ‘’the sounds of the storm were made by a large hamster wheel’’ rattling and whirring beneath the gallery. He loved the fact that they used water pistols to depict the driving rain and waves.

At last, the explorers brought back their bounty. The actors walked around the table with Arabian silk scarves tied round their heads. They carried spices in mortars for the children to savour, wafting the fragrances toward them with a fan. They brought round pepper, cinnamon and cumin, followed by its ‘good friend’ the ‘citrusy’ coriander (found even in the tomb of Tutankhamun). A heady scent filled the studio.

Act 4 Milk, Cheese and Eggs – The Circus Show was full of tricks and silly jokes:      ‘’…What is an eggs least favourite day? – Fryday!’’ (My children enjoyed them anyway).

Effortlessly, the clutter was cleared away; the children held up their spoons; the actors ran forward to cover the table with a clean white sheet and the sound of bees filled the studio.
And so we came to the final Act 5 – The Honey Bee, which was Sarah’s favourite part of the show.

Flowers were projected onto the cloth, the lights dimmed and a bee keeper in full regalia walked in slow motion towards a hive at the other end. Haunting words followed his every step: ‘‘No bees, No pollination – No more humans!’’ followed by Einstein’s prediction about a world without bees…

On reaching the hive, the keeper lifted out a glass frame and held it up to the light. In time to slow, solemn music, he raised a clear jug of golden honey and slowly poured the rich, sticky, gloopy contents into a glass bowl. The hypnotic song continued and I noticed one child joining in with the ‘buzzing’ chorus. The other children appeared to be transfixed, paying close attention to the bee keeper – all caught in the glow. The keeper handed the bowl of honey to the chef, who was to mix it with his custard and turn it into delicious honey ice cream for the children to taste.

Miss Honey the Queen Bee dancer was presented to the children as the final act. Dressed in a long, sparkly, golden, sequined gown, with fur lined train and wings of fine netting, she stepped onto the table. To Sarah’s delight, while Miss Honey swayed and sang her deep, swinging song, the children were handed bee bopper head bands and the rhythmic clapping and dancing continued. Miss Honey declared that there was only one thing left to do: ‘’Thank the farmers, thank the miller….’’, she continued down the list. Finally she ordered the children to stand up and follow the drones, with the startling words‘’ Buzz off out of my hive!’’ And so the show was brought to an exuberant finale, as the children filed out, bopping away with their bee bands.

I think we are all still buzzing from the memories of a vibrant and exciting show, which had an important tale to tell about the origins and value of our food.

The Little Table of Delights is on at Old Vic Studio until 4th October

– Review by Mary Stoppard, with insights from her children, Matthew and Sarah

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