never trust a vegetarian ...

No Taste Forever! photo (c) The Bacchanals

no taste forever!
by paul rothwell
Thursday 13 January - Saturday 29 January 2011
Bats Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington

A tale of a group of humans under attack from an insidious force. Nutritionist Malcolm Sweet is the first to realise something is wrong. His patients are morbidly obese and dropping like flies, and then he runs over a little girl, crying for her ice cream ... Something has a hold over these people and he's going to find out what it is. What he discovers will shock you to the pit of your stomach.

cast (in order of appearance):
Baby Emma (a hungry ghost) Helen Sims
Malcolm Sweet (a dietician) Alex Greig
Galen Widders (a morbidly obese man) Jonny Potts
Fliss McSkimming (executive director of the Perfect Taste Festival) Kirsty Bruce
Daryl Sweet (a body-builder, Malcolm's son) Michael Trigg
CinCin (a psychopathic waiter) Jackson Coe
Dr Nikita McSkimming (a genetic scientist, Fliss' daughter) Jean Sergent
Gretchen Fletcher (a militant vegan activist) Rose Guise
Audrey Sweet (a homemaker, Malcolm's wife) Brianne Kerr
Petrus Niekerk (former top chef) Salesi Le'ota
Sonya Chow (an organics entrepreneur) Annaliese Booth
Jenna-Lynn Tuckett (an American exchange student) Alisha Tyson
Ms Chocolate (a Snickers bar) Jess Aaltonen
Senor Corn (a corn cob) Andrew Goddard
Ms Lettuce (an organic lettuce) Morgan Rothwell
Hotdog (a singing hotdog) Andrew Goddard
Bystanders, Gym Bunnies, Restaurant Diners, Perfect Taste Executives, Supermarket shoppers, Angels, Dream People, Food People, Taste Everything exhibitors played by Kimberley Stott, Julian Kris Sakarai and members of the company
Producer Fiona McNamara
Production Manager Kate Middleton-Olliver
Stage Manager Hannah Nielsen-Jones
Frocks Josephine Hall
Technical Operator William O'Neil
Assistant Stage Manager Jasmin Cummings
Property Master Hannah Nielsen-Jones
Set Design Armin Tamzarian
Head Mechanist Alex Greig
Stage Right Column by Kate Middleton-Olliver
Sound Design Walter J. Plinge
Production Photography Vanessa Fowler Kendall
Poster/flyer design Santa's Little Helper
Directed by David Lawrence

This might not be many people's favourite Bacchanals show, but if it weren't for No Taste Forever! there'd have been no Bacchanals shows in the twenty-teens. No Taste Forever! was the show that revived the company and paved the way for our best work and the strongest incarnation of The Bacchanals of the lot. Uther described the twenty-teens Bacchanals shows in Playmarket's annual around 2013 as something like "the comeback tour that never ends" in a way where I wasn't sure if he was celebrating or dissing us, and it's all thanks to No Taste Forever!—or more specifically, to the show I directed immediately before No Taste Forever!, a job so lousy that it cured me of any desire to work in 'professional' theatre ever again—that The Bacchanals enjoyed such a sudden and lasting resurrection.

Lemme talk about the play first: in 2008 Paul Rothwell held a reading of No Taste Forever at which I read the role of Petrus Niekirk. At that stage it was a collection of random scenes, some complete, some placeholders (a monologue in which a character who grew up on a farm recalls eating her favourite pet lamb as a child, which often showed up in early drafts of Paul Rothwell plays but never made it into an actual show) and some little more than stage directions: A scene in which Audrey gets a job giving away food samples in a supermarket but everything goes wrong for her. By that stage I had directed four of Paul's plays: we'd had great success with Hate Crimes at BATS in 2005 and then, under the Bovine University moniker, I'd done the revised version of Golden Boys at Circa in 2006, and then two plays back to back at BATS in 2007: the incredibly controversial Deliver Us followed by Kissing Bone. It probably wasn't helped by the ongoing saga of getting King Lear funded (see epic essay elsewhere on this site!), but they were both an incredibly tough time. The furore around Deliver Us, a horror play in which the psychotic killer turns out to be the ghost of an aborted foetus, was exactly the kind of blow-up I'd hoped to avoid by sneaking the play in as a late-night Fringe show with just five performances, but an effusive review in which John Smythe said in years to come he'd be able to say he'd witnessed the birth of this masterpiece unleashed a tirade of online abuse on practically every aspect of the production. Going straight into Kissing Bone was tough and I was really on the fence about it as a play, but when I said so to the then-management of Playmarket they pointed out, "Paul's is an extremely unique voice that very few directors fully understand—given the working relationship you guys have, we feel you have a responsibility to him not to let other people fuck up his plays!" So even though I didn't fully get it, I directed Kissing Bone in the hope that, as per the previous plays, there would come an "Oh, of course!" moment in rehearsals where I suddenly understood and saw the play clearly. But that moment never came, and the show felt like one of the lamest things I'd ever done. If I'd been just a normal person it might have been okay for me to do a cute, weird production of my friend's cute, weird play, but at the time there was a sense of "The Chapman Tripp-winning director of such productions as I.D. and Hamlet ought not to be doing such frivolous work; he has a social responsibility to be saving the world!" righteousness from the critics and the community (and probably, I must confess, from myself too). I felt I had nothing more to contribute to Paul's plays and that, however good a match my style was to his voice, in directing four of his plays I'd really just made three carbon copies of my production of Hate Crimes and I didn't want to keep repeating myself. The only way I could do anything new with a Paul Rothwell play was to have it be properly funded so I could explore design and, most crucially as I saw it, cast age-appropriate actors (in Hate Crimes and Deliver Us Erin, in her early-20s, was playing 40-something-year old mothers, and in Kissing Bone Alex was playing a pensioner—absolutely fine from the point of view of the fantasy-disguised-as-naturalism style of Paul's writing, but necessitated in part because actors the right age weren't going to do a co-op show at BATS for no money). And then, in 2008 and 2009, I had to endure the frustration of seeing exactly that happen for someone else: two funded productions of Paul's plays happened, each with age-appropriate actors, and they were awful. I learnt three things: Playmarket were right—I get Paul's voice and style in a way that many other directors do not; age-appropriate actors made the productions serve their character instead of serving the play (Erin, Alex, Hadleigh, Kate and everyone else who'd played a role outside their range in one of my shows had done so without any ego involved and purely to serve the production rather than their own narcissism!). And the most important and valuable lesson from seeing someone else's staging of a Paul Rothwell play as though it were a hilarious comedy was the realisation that Paul's characters aren't supposed to realise that they are funny or weird; they all think they're normal people. It fucked me off because I felt ultimately it reflected badly on Paul's writing and that people came out of those productions saying "Wow, that was a really bad play" instead of "No one working on that production actually understood the tone of the play or the characters." I knew Paul hadn't loved those productions, whereas I knew that with at least Hate Crimes and Deliver Us he'd said "That looked exactly like I imagined it when I was writing it" upon seeing each of them for the first time. So I resolved that I wasn't going to pass on another Paul Rothwell play based solely on the fear of repeating myself again, and when a new draft of No Taste Forever! appeared I sent it onto Fiona McNamara, with the promise that just reading it would give her an eating disorder, and we hatched a plan that I'd direct it and she'd produce it, and we got it programmed at BATS for January 2011.

No Taste Forever! (c) The BacchanalsHow did it end up being a Bacchanals show? I guess, like Hamlet in 2006, using that label made us a known commodity in terms of applying for funding which would have been part of the thinking. I spent 2010 working at Victoria University as a Teaching Fellow and, for the first time in my life, having enough regular income that I didn't have to say yes to anything I didn't 100% want to do—and while I don't regret any of the projects I took on between 2006 and 2010, there were certainly several where my motivations were more financial than they were artistic—and it made an amazing difference to my quality of life in 2010 to be able to relax at home outside of work hours instead of always being on the hustle, and to be entirely focused on my teaching instead of always having several different projects distracting me from being fully present. I'd lined up a paying directorial gig out of town for straight after the end of semester, but No Taste Forever! would be my first hometown show after a year away from things and I suspect making it a Bacchanals show was also about putting personal pressure on myself to make it a big deal rather than just coasting on the kind of no frills BATS productions I knew I could make with minimal time and effort (and had knocked out plenty of during The Bacchanals' 'Wilderness Years' between 2006-2009). But there were also four core things about how I wanted to approach No Taste Forever that aligned with the kind of work I thought The Bacchanals should be doing: 1. It was a large-scale work requiring a big cast to do it justice and I wanted to embrace that—I wanted it to have loads of people in it and for set, props and costumes to be a huge part of it. Fiona and I talked about it as being staged as though it were a West End/Broadway musical, just without the music. 2. Part of The Bacchanals' agenda was always to make work that was about big ideas and big issues—I was determined that The Bacchanals never do plays that are about middle class people complaining about middle class issues, i.e. the kinds of plays where a couple argues in a living room about the deterioration of their relationship. No Taste Forever! was about food, eating, complex attitudes to food and eating and body issues; it also featured underlying examination of corporate greed and the kinds of structures in place that affect our food and our eating and prey on our body image issues. 3. I'd long-felt that the best Bacchanals productions were the ones that were self-consciously metatheatrical. Even the shows where the predominant staging and acting form was naturalism or hyper-naturalism had included direct address or been staged in found spaces where there was no way of pretending you weren't watching actors performing a play. I'd always been most satisfied by a sort of tribal storytelling whereby the cast were actors telling a play within a play rather than trying to be 'real' characters—that metatheatrical layering had so far been most evident, I think, in Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night's Dream, the 2006 Hamlet and King Lear where the actors arrived onstage as a company before assuming their individual roles, or Romeo and Juliet where everyone sat around the edges of the performance space on crates throughout, clearly and consciously 'putting on' their characters when they got up from their crate to enter a scene. In King Lear I'd even toyed with the idea of leaving the house lights on throughout but that seemed just a step too far, especially given I was still—as I had been since I directed my first ever production at high school—being confronted by people who really hated actors talking directly to the audience in Shakespeare. From No Taste Forever! onwards, self-conscious metatheatricality and a lack of artifice was an acknowledged core of The Bacchanals' work. From this point onwards, when you entered the performance space to see a Bacchanals show, the company were always already onstage in the performance space, welcoming you into the space while getting dressed and set for the show. And No Taste Forever! would be the last Bacchanals show in which the audience sat in the dark, for reasons I'll get to when I write about Slouching Toward Bethlehem. 4. My biggest struggle in the first phase of The Bacchanals had always been about the sustainability of the work. I wanted to make large-cast, large-scale work, but I also wanted to be able to make a living out of making theatre. While no Bacchanals show until Measure For Measure had actually lost money, on only 4 of our 19 shows to date had everyone been paid a wage through rehearsals and performances, and while some shows had paid out a co-op share comparable to a low wage for the course of the process, others had paid out very poorly indeed. No one was out of pocket as virtually everyone working in theatre in Wellington also had a part-time job that actually paid the rent for them, but you couldn't sustain a company on massive projects that yielded maybe $200 per person once all the bills were paid. And as the person leading the company (and also directing, producing, performing, doing the lighting and sound design, generating all the publicity material etc.) I was always the last person to get paid, if at all. The reality was that when I was earning my best living making theatre in the early- to mid-2000s, it was actually the freelance gigs as an operator, lighting designer, stage manager and teacher that were really paying the bills while I made nothing from The Bacchanals. Three things happened in the process of getting No Taste Forever! up and running that re-framed how I thought about sustainability: first, Creative New Zealand declined to fund it which wasn't necessarily a surprise, except that they had given funding to Paul's last play (see rant earlier in this essay) which made it very clear, after all my funding adventures with them, that ultimately it must be about me, not the calibre of the work, because while I could understand in 2002 why they wouldn't fund some young weirdo and his unheard-of friends to do Shakespeare on a bus, it was almost a decade later and they wouldn't fund a multi-award-winning director with a consistent and proven track record to direct a new NZ work by an already-funded award-winning playwright (and as I write this almost a decade later again, I'm still enjoying/enduring the same consistent failure to get funded!). Second, Fiona and I pitched the project to Wellington City Council's events fund because we wanted it to be bigger than just some-play-at-BATS, but when it came to presenting the budget, WCC said: "This budget is bogus because of the fees/wages section in your expenditure. We all know that ultimately you're going to work for free because that's what happens on these BATS projects, so we'd rather theatre people stopped fluffing up their numbers when they apply to us by pretending they intend to pay people." While it was insulting and offensive to hear them take that position, it was also surprising and refreshing to have them actually state the case honestly—and the thing is, what they were saying was absolutely true. What all of this was telling me was I couldn't do the kind of work I wanted to do and have it be financially sustainable in any more than an "everyone gets a hundred bucks at the end" sense, and that a decade of fighting for something better than this had been futile, so maybe I needed to rethink what the work was for and drop 'making money' from my list of objectives. As per 2000-2005, let the freelance gigs pay for me to able to do the passion projects, but this time see it as a good thing rather than as a defeat. And the third thing was the awful time I had on the freelance gig I had right before No Taste Forever!. D'you wanna hear about that? Okay, sigh, here goes:

If you've read the King Lear piece on this site you'll know about my close connection with the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin while Janice Marthen was running it. I'd last worked there directing Jane Eyre in October 2008 but had been contracted by Creative New Zealand to 'industry assess' the Fortune in 2009—in other words, I'd go to Dunedin in secret, see productions, and report back to CNZ as to whether the Fortune were fulfilling the criteria on which they'd been funded, and presenting work of a standard that justified their funding. I knew Janice was exhausted and demoralised after five years there and that change was afoot. By 2010 she'd left, and the board appointed an interim general manager to oversee things while they worked on a new model, that ultimate new model being a return to their pre-2005 model of an Artistic Director-led theatre. I somehow didn't even factor in the consultation process—which would have in part come out of my industry assessment—nor was I ever sent a job description. But at that point I was mired in academia, and planning to go overseas to do a PhD mid-2011 once my teaching was out of the way and I'd fulfilled my commitment to direct a new version of Sartre's No Exit in Auckland, so moving to Dunedin to run the Fortune would not have even registered for me as an option. Anyway, late-2009 their interim general manager sent me a couple of the scripts for their 2010 programme with an invitation to direct, but I wasn't that interested in either of the plays and couldn't have worked them around my teaching timetable, so I passed. Then, close to the middle of the year, they got in touch again: "We know this is really left-field, but we haven't been able to get a director for the end-of-year panto—would you be even remotely interested in considering it?" At this point, the Fortune, like Circa, were always ending their year with a Roger Hall-written, Paul Jenden-scored pantomime—usually whichever one had been written for Circa the year before—and while me doing one was a left-field idea, it wasn't completely crazy. One, I'd grown up in a musical theatre family and one of my most formative childhood theatregoing experiences was seeing my dad and his best friend in drag as Cinderella's Ugly Sisters, driving the show off the rails with their upstaging and bad behaviour; two, while I always missed out on them, I'd pitched to direct every Roger Hall play programmed at the Fortune during Janice's era because I felt, if I were to have a career directing mainstage shows in New Zealand theatres, I absolutely had to prove that I could do a commercial, mainstream show as well as I could do adaptations of classics or dark tortured prestige pieces; three, as had been pointed out by Stuart, the board member who suggested me as the panto's director, I'm a director interested primarily in form above all else, i.e. rather than "this is my directorial style and I'm going to stick to it," I'm someone who acknowledges and understands that form-wise a Shakespeare is not the same as a middle class drawing room play is not the same as a musical is not the same as a Sarah Kane is not the same as an Ibsen etc. All that said, my reasons for taking the job were far more mercenary: rehearsals would start the week after my teaching contract at Victoria University ended. I'd initially said yes to another job offer, directing a production for an amateur Musical Theatre company in the South Island of a show I thought was shit but would give me spare time to hang out somewhere new (rehearsals would be evenings and weekends). But the panto at the Fortune would take three weeks' less work and pay a thousand more dollars than the musical, so I bailed on the musical and took the panto.

I'll tell the full story of the panto somewhere once key people are dead but the essence was: what was meant to be my return to professional theatre after a reasonably long sabbatical turned out to be the show that cured me of ever wanting to work in professional theatre again. At the Fortune's behest because they thought he'd sell tickets, I agreed to cast as the Dame a legendarily difficult senior actor, who I'd been assured was presently sane and very excited about working with me, and I therefore let flattery and self-vanity—not to mention all my previous success in working harmoniously with alleged notorious divas—persuade me to ignore my gut instinct which had always been "I will never ever work with that guy!" After a mostly-fun but sometimes-arduous rehearsal process in which everyone else was gelling while he used all sorts of deflective tricks to avoid learning his lines or rehearsing his musical numbers and choreography, we had a horrific production week in which he held the show and other actors to ransom (from what I could see, out of spite after a rehearsal room run-through to Fortune staff where everyone else got all the laughs) and used his long working relationship with Roger Hall to stand in the way of any script rewrites or jokes he didn't like (again, because other actors were getting laughs while he mumbled through half-remembered lines). I couldn't fire him because he was of more value to the Fortune than I was (and replacing a lead actor during production week is almost always going to be detrimental to the show rather than be the thing that saves it); I couldn't quit myself because that isn't in my nature and would have also been a terrible thing to do to the Fortune and the rest of the cast. I know that on some level this actor cared deeply about the calibre of the work he was doing which is why he was being such a tyrannical diva and perfectionist, but the truth was I had taken the job primarily for the money and I just didn't care enough to want to address or improve the things he thought were issues. I knew the show was no masterpiece but our topical jokes were great and so was the audience response (it doubtless rankled him to read reviews that said "this is the best Fortune pantomime yet" given he'd directed the previous year's one). But me able to take responsibility for my own failings doesn't change that this awful bully made that production week horrible for every single person involved, and I had an incredible moment of clarity a few hours before the first preview as he was frothing and yelling in my face mid-tantrum and I thought: David, if this is what working in professional theatre for the rest of your life looks like, if this is the sort of person you will turn into by your 60s, then you have to do something else with your life—no amount of money is worth this. I'd just turned 35 and couldn't bear to imagine, based on this actor's example, what my combined sense of insecurity, paranoia and know-it-all-ism would look like if I gave it another 25 years of taking jobs for the money, working with people resistant to serving any vision other than their own, and trying to justify mediocrity as having some artistic merit. I remembered an incredibly enlightening evening in 2002 the night before I quit the only project I've ever walked out on, a STAB commission for BATS which had spent months stressing me out and where money was the only reason I was still hanging on after a dismal first week of rehearsals: we'd just started rehearsing our 2003 Twelfth Night and—after a horrible day in which a group of Bacchanals had helped me move truckloads of set items for the STAB show that was making me so miserable—I was having a drink with Julia who was the only newbie and was enthusing about what a good time she was having with the company. "The Bacchanals were created," I told her, "so that I would never have to work on projects I didn't believe in or with people I didn't respect." In 2002 that was the moment that made it clear to me that the next day I was going to repay all my wages into the STAB show's bank account and quit; remembering it in 2010 made it clear to me that while the miserable time I was having directing the Fortune's panto was all caused by someone else, surely I'd brought it on myself: in agreeing to direct that actor, in a Roger Hall play of all things, I had turned into the very thing I'd set out to never be. And it also reminded me that I had this thing called The Bacchanals, a company that could be as happy and agreeable and fun and harmonious as I made it with which I could do whatever I wanted, as opposed to working in an industry where I had to accept jobs that were the nearest things I could get to the things I wanted and often not actually very near at all (such as directing that actor in a Roger Hall play!).

king henry the sixth, part one photo (c) The Bacchanals Sheesh, remember how on the commentary page for I.D. on this site I said the nice thing about coming back to these shows years after making them was that hopefully most of my anger and passion would be dulled? and yet every one of them has contained at least one angry-contextual-rant! I outline that panto experience, sadly my last time working at the Fortune, in such detail because the trauma of it directly informed every aspect of making No Taste Forever! in that I was determined that I would make something as joyous and fun and cathartic as the panto had been demoralising, and that I was never, ever, ever again—be it on this show or the many to come—going to work with people I didn't like or respect. The lousy time I had on that panto was responsible for every good thing I did in the 20-teens—not that I haven't worked with a few arseholes and bullies since then, but that has always been on work I haven't had my own control over.

The simplicity of realising that I was no longer going to kid myself about making money out of the theatre I made meant that No Taste Forever could be much more collaborative than the usual Bacchanals show in which I'd always tried out of necessity to have a team that was basically just the actors plus me, and the actors all taking on production roles. But Fiona as producer had different ways of working to mine, and reasoned that individual people in those individual roles would be more beneficial than heaping additional responsibility onto actors. That way it could be like the massive musicals my whole extended family worked on when I was young: everyone felt like they were serving the show regardless of whether they were onstage or backstage; and everyone's commitment was minimised. This meant both cast and crew could be people who had other things on in their lives and weren't committed to all-day every-day to make the show. The various plot strands of the play made it possible to rehearse some scenes very quickly as they often only involved a few actors, so I could work around everyone's complicated schedules and still get a lot of ground covered. In addition to Fiona producing the play, we brought on board recent Toi Whakaari grad Kate Middleton-Olliver as production manager, and BATS had put us onto Hannah Nielsen-Jones, an American currently living in Wellington while travelling the world who'd contacted BATS asking if anyone needed a stage manager. Hannah would go on to become one of my dearest and most important friends in the universe, but more immediately in No Taste Forever she became the person who wrangled a massive cast in a show where every single scene involved food of some kind onstage—Hannah spent a couple of hours before each performance collecting, preparing and heating up all the various food donated to us by sponsors so that actors could, in-scene, be eating the bread, fruit, salad, chocolate, pizzas, burgers, chips, KFC, ice cream etc. dictated by the script. In several cases Hannah had to get very creative, such as sculpting mashed potato to stand in for ice cream for a lactose-intolerant actor or finding a way to make it look like the vegetarian actor playing a staunch meat advocate was eating a real steak every night. We also had an ASM—a lovely UK traveller called Jasmin who had likewise gone into BATS and asked if anyone needed an intern. By that stage my spare room full of set, prop and costume items was already legendary and overloaded, but I knew my crates full of boots and coats and trousers and kimonos weren't going to yield some of the specialist items required for No Taste Forever! so Fiona enlisted her friend Josephine to make some specific costume items, particularly the giant vegetables for when Galen's fridge comes to life in the second half, and Josephine volunteered her boyfriend to operate the lighting and sound. William O'Neil was a Wellington High School Shakespeare Society alumnus (I'd seen him play Alonso in The Tempest) and Studio 77 graduate who was, by that stage, pretty much the go-to guy for operating BATS shows, as I'd been 8 or 9 years earlier. Will had the perfect Bacchanals temperament and would operate No Taste Forever and then perform in Slouching Toward Bethlehem and Julius Caesar. Even after he and Josephine moved to Australia he'd continue to contribute, designing the lighting for Other People's Wars and even donning a Princess Leia bikini for a few nights in The Clouds during a trip back to Wellington. While future Bacchanals productions would revert back to a team of largely just the actors plus me, I relished on No Taste Forever! having a big support team working on the show.

No Taste Forever! (c) The Bacchanals How can I outline the story of No Taste Forever! best? The play is driven, I guess, by a nutritionist called Dr Malcolm Sweet who is investigating the mystery of why his patients keep gaining weight and even dying despite cutting out fatty foods and toxins, and discovers after interrogating a human-sized Snickers bar that there is a terrifying conspiracy afoot: food is trying to enslave and destroy the human race by tricking us into eating it. Malcolm forms a friendship with his morbidly-obese patient Galen Widders, who is eating himself to death; Malcolm's own food issues have driven a wedge between he and his wife Audrey who feels purposeless now that her husband and their body-builder son Daryl both reject the meals, cakes and desserts that she slaves over. Daryl, protein-obsessed for his muscles but also bulimic, goes on dates with American exchange student Jenna-Lynn who is allergic to practically everything and in every scene she's in accidentally eats peanuts or tomatoes or gluten or something to make her head swell or her skin break out in hives; Daryl and Jenna-Lynn's friend Sonya Chow is a goodie-good Head Girl environmentalist and activist who is trying to develop the perfect toxin-free food bar, which she hopes to launch at the Good Taste Food Festival, a fine-dining gastronomic annual event that has become less elitist and gourmet since its artistic director, Petrus Niekirk, lost his taste buds as a result of lifelong cocaine over-use and now advocates for the blandest food possible while the festival's executive director, Fliss McSkimmings, wants to keep the aspirants out. Fliss is a high-functioning narcissist control freak who, obsessed with staying thin and young, only eats once every second day at 7pm and is appalled by her acne-ridden steak-loving scientist daughter Nikita, whose specialist field is 'meat productivity'. Lovesick Nikita is being scammed by a covert activist called Gretchen Fletcher who pretends to be romantically interested in Nikita as part of a deep cover operation to break into Nikita's lab and destroy her work (Gretchen, upon being exposed as the villain who's ruined Nikita's research, speaks what became the play's tagline: "Never trust a vegetarian!"). Tying all of this together is CinCin, a psychopathic waiter who has been systematically poisoning a random customer every night in the restaurant he works in—oh, and I forgot to mention that Malcolm is being haunted by Baby Emma, the ghost of a six year old he accidentally ran over and killed when he didn't see her bending over in the driveway to pick up a dropped ice cream. There are some massive set pieces in No Taste Forever including a restaurant scene in which the various couples are on various dates, a giant scene set inside a KFC that includes a macabre sequence in which a giant chicken dances for Galen to try to cheer him up but turns out to be Gretchen dressed as a chicken and the dance turns into an expressionist piece detailing the graphic torture of battery farm animals, and a scene in which Galen's fridge bursts open and a conga-line of evil dancing vegetables emerge, along with the corpse of Fliss who has been eaten by sharks while on holiday in the Gold Coast. The finale of the play sees all the characters and plot-strands converge at the Good Taste Food Festival which descends into an apocalyptic food fight as Malcolm tries to tell the world the truth of what he has learned.

No Taste Forever! (c) The Bacchanals Not knowing at that stage what was ahead for The Bacchanals, I wasn't thinking about a permanent ensemble in casting the show—my parameters were much more: is this person available and willing? are they on board with this weird play? and most importantly, are they nice? Could I stand spending the summer hanging out with them?—but inevitably the cast consisted of some existing/prior Bacchanals and some people who would go on to become important members of the 2011-2015 incarnation of The Bacchanals, the longest incarnation in terms of consistency of personnel and the nearest we ever came to a truly permanent ensemble. Alex played Dr Malcolm Sweet as a James Stewart-type everyman (James Stewart the American actor as opposed to James Stewart the 2000-2006 Bacchanal!); Salesi played Petrus Niekirk as one of those nasty cynical yell-at-everyone chefs in reality TV shows about Michelin Star restaurants; Jonny, having participated in some of the earliest readings of the play, could have gone anywhere but had determined that the morbidly obese Galen Widders was the part for him and he was going to play it in a fat suit, which seemed like a good solution—I didn't know any morbidly obese actors and the language used in the script wouldn't have worked had it been someone merely big; nor would I have known how to handle the subject with sensitivity had I known someone big enough to meet the needs of the script. Joining us from 1 Henry VI, the most recent Bacchanals show, were Jess Aaltonen as Ms Chocolate (I'd taught Jess at WPAC and she'd been in both my Summer Shakespeares), Jackson Coe as CinCin (while at university Jackson had been Salient's theatre editor and reviewer in addition to appearing in my Henry V and 1 Henry VI), and Kirsty Bruce as Fliss McSkimmings ("are you going to write about our secret romance during this show?" asked Kirsty as I began writing this commentary—we are still together 10 years later!). Alisha Tyson had been in Henry V while still at high school and took on the incredibly difficult role of Jenna-Lynn (which required a hugely caricatured accent and a lot of sleight of hand to achieve all the various allergic reactions Jenna needed to have during the play); theatre reviewer Helen Sims had been a big champion of The Bacchanals and Paul Rothwell's plays back in the day and had also been in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Playing the ghost of Baby Emma was the right sized role for her to be able to balance her love of theatre with her demanding day job as a lawyer. Michael Trigg was a good friend of Fiona's and I'd known him a long time also—he'd been in a production of Lovelock's Dream Run at Wellington College which I'd lit, he'd been in my 45-minute version of Pericles for the 2007 NSSP week for Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ, and just before going to London as part of the Young Shakespeare Company in 2008 Michael had been a meat puppet in mine and Fiona's production of the Biblical play Hail to the Thief at BATS. Michael was always, always a terrific team member and playing Daryl was the perfect opportunity for him to pitch in and help on every aspect of the production. As his best friend Sonya, Annaliese Booth was a first year student at Victoria University whose company and attitude I'd loved in my THEA101 class in 2010 and it felt to me like Michael and Annaliese were both playing extensions of their natural ebullient good-natured selves. Like me, Brianne Kerr had been around BATS and Wellington theatre forever and in addition to acting, Bri had a publicity company, offering a really good and cost-effective package that many BATS shows used, but somehow our paths had never crossed despite having many people in common. We first worked together in 2009 when I directed the Playmarket workshop of McKenzie Country, a family drama in which Bri was the playwright's choice for one of the parts. As per meeting and working with Salesi properly in 2005, it effortlessly and quickly felt weird that Bri and I hadn't already been working together our entire lives and playing Audrey in No Taste Forever! was the first of 13 consecutive Bacchanals shows for Bri. As vegan activist Gretchen and meat-productivity scientist Nikita, Rose Guise and Jean Sergent had both been working with Fiona on other projects and were her suggestion for people who would bring interesting politics and attitudes about food to the show (it was particularly hard for Jean to be the mouthpiece for a character whose views couldn't have been more polar opposite to her own). I'd known Jean peripherally for a while as she'd worked in the box office at BATS while I was a house technician, and she had hosted a big party for everyone before my favourite band, the Mountain Goats, had last played in Wellington in April 2010. Jean would join Brianne, Kirsty, Trigg, Jonny, Salesi and Alex as making up the core of regular Bacchanals over the next dozen shows. I'd put the word out to my students that anyone who wanted to come and be a dancing vegetable was welcome, dreaming that there'd be scores of volunteers—but as it happened, only a couple of students plus Helen's boyfriend took me up on the offer which made it easier to integrate them into crowd scenes through the whole show. And Paul himself, having just returned from a writing residency in Dunedin where he'd directed his own play Fun/Shy, decided it would be a valuable experience for him as a writer to actually be in the production himself.

I have always loved being the first BATS show of the year, primarily because it always meant being able to get into the theatre immediately after the new year and being in residence until the show opened. A few days into January, we loaded up a truck with piles of things from my spare room and some borrowed furniture from Toi Whakaari and shipped it all to BATS. David Goldthorpe also let us trawl through the underground of the Embassy cinema—what is now the Black Sparrow and the ground floor screens, and was in the 1990s the Fringe Festival, Young & Hungry and BATS offices, had been an abandoned building site of uncertain ownership for a good chunk of the two thousand and noughts. The Embassy, Wellington City Council and other entities with a stake in the building all seemed to use it as a dumping ground and David, who was a cinema projectionist alongside all his theatre hustles, had set up a nook in it as a living room slash rehearsal space where he could chill out between shifts and practice the trumpet with no one knowing where he was. Chiefly for No Taste Forever! there were old popcorn machines, ice cream fridges, shelves and furniture that we could help ourselves to. Over the next week and a bit, we rehearsed onstage with the full company in the evenings, and by day we painted, rigged and built in the space. Faux steel girders from Hedda Gabler were repurposed to break up the space, maroon paint left over from A Renaissance Man and blue paint bought but never used for A Midsummer Night's Dream were used to change the colour of the space. We sawed the back off a fridge so that the dancing vegetables could emerge into Galen's kitchen; we attached wheels to shelves and tables so that the onstage settings could be transformed; we put a toilet on a moveable plinth so that it could double as both the loo in the Sweets' house and the one in Fliss' dream sequence. We also, over the course of rehearsals, asked everyone to preserve all their recycling and food packaging and during production week at BATS we made a proscenium arch out of and decorated all the architraves with empty chocolate wrappers, biscuit packets, cereal boxes, soft drink and juice bottles, pizza boxes and milk cartons.

I knew the show was not going to be to everyone's taste and that Paul's extreme views could lead to polarised audiences. While it was nowhere near as extreme as the reaction to Deliver Us many people took issue with Paul's attitudes towards eating and eating disorders in the play but my own eating issues at the time made me sympathetic to Paul's own obsession with thinness—characters like Fliss (one of whose first lines is "I Have Conquered My Appetite") and Daryl espoused thoughts and feelings that I experienced myself on a daily basis. As I'd half-expected when we were casting the show, some people took real exception to Jonny playing Galen in a fat suit and there was an accusation that we were discriminating against Wellington's community of fat actors (a community I wasn't aware existed!) in not casting someone genuinely morbidly obese in the role. Of course, it wasn't as simplistic as that: for anyone who had struggled with their own body image or fought against media ideas of body perfection, the fat-phobic depiction of Galen—both in Paul's writing and in my direction, I'm sure—was deeply offensive. Today I'd apologise—in fact today I'd take a totally different approach to most things—but all I can really say to defend it was that at the time, a director and playwright who were both anorexic probably weren't the right people to provide an objective view of a morbidly obese character.

No Taste Forever! photo (c) The BacchanalsWe had a great season. Houses were good and for all the production's extravagance we broke budget 4 performances into the run. I seem to recall pretty much every review complaining about the length—I wanted it to be fast and intense but it was a 100-minute show with no interval; I'd have probably been wiser to let it be the two-hour show it really was and submit to a break in the middle—and saying there was just too much going on in the play and that it could have stood to lose a plot thread/character grouping or two. Several years later when Paul would write Gunplay for us, his conception was that it was like the season finale cliffhanger of the second season of an HBO show, with some characters and plot threads already well-established and others relegated to that week's B or C-story, and some things being set up to bring you back next season, and I now think that No Taste Forever! was his first attempt at that sort of a narrative and that as a form it might have made more sense as a 12-part TV show rather than a play to be digested in a single sitting. But for all of the criticisms of its length or unevenness, there seemed to be a consensus that people were very, very happy The Bacchanals were back.

Were we back, though? I know that at least through rehearsals I had been planning my move overseas—I'd bought a new laptop and a new guitar at the end of 2010 in the mindset of "This will be the laptop and guitar I will take with me when I leave New Zealand to do my PhD". The PhD had been my solution to the emotional trauma of 2009: I was going to move to a different part of the world mid-2010 and start again, fully committed to an academic lifestyle. But the Teaching Fellowship for 2010 made me defer those plans by a year, planning to go mid-2011 once I'd directed that Auckland production of Huis Clos. And then I was offered some lectures for the second half of 2011 since Victoria University hadn't yet employed a replacement for my retired mentor, so I thought I'll go mid-2012 ... but really, the PhD was an idea I always came back to when life wasn't going well and when my sense of self-worth was poor. When things were going well, I was happy where I was. And when The Bacchanals were making work, things were going well. It was an election year in 2011 and I knew I wanted to do Julius Caesar to coincide with it, so there was at least one more Bacchanals show to come.

On Saturday night of the penultimate weekend of No Taste Forever!, Bryony Skillington, who was managing the Pit (BATS Theatre's bar), commented "You guys have drunk here every night of your season so far—I've done such good business!" and I took that as a challenge to see it through to the end of the run, which we did. Subsequently, we would always consider it part of our duty when doing a season at BATS to ensure that at least two company members drank in the bar after every performance and I'm sure a deciding factor in how frequently we were programmed at BATS was to do with what excellent business the bar always did when we were in residence. Later that year Salesi, Hannah and I would make a show especially for the Pit, partly inspired by what a good summer we'd spent in that bar during the run of No Taste Forever!. On the final night of No Taste Forever! many past Bacchanals seemed to be in the audience as the cast had a superb time onstage (although I don't remember it, my diary tells me that the entire company joined Fliss and the dancing vegetables onstage in Scene 29) and I had the great joy of watching it with Kate Fitzroy, who'd been in Hate Crimes and Measure For Measure, and Julia, who'd finally returned to New Zealand after 6 years living in Berlin. "David, this is insane," Julia said sternly to me during the KFC scene. When I turned to her again at the end of the show after the ridiculous food fight and Petrus' death from being force-fed chicken feed down a giant funnel and the ghost of Baby Emma finally licking her ice cream to the Sufjan Stevens song 'A Loverless Bed (Without Remission)' I was surprised to see her weepy and she explained: "I'm at BATS, with David and Kate, watching The Bacchanals. I'm home!"—David, September 2020.

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