No Taste Forever! photo (c) The Bacchanals

no taste forever!
by paul rothwell


So the year begins with craziness — why not? While most playwrights feel constrained to write small cast plays to improve their chances of getting produced, Paul Rothwell has penned a sprawling buffet of epic scale and director David Lawrence (The Bacchanals in association with Bovine University and The Wild Duck) has mounted it at BATS with a cast of 17! Madness!
            I want to luxuriate in the profligacy but finally feel it suffers from over-indulgence, much like the play's climactic Perfect Taste Festival. Elitist executive director Fliss McSkimming (Kirsty Bruce) seeks perfection in tiny portions but former top chef Petrus Niekerk (Salesi Le'ota), whose cocaine addiction has left him bereft of taste in every sense, hijacks it in favour of a 'Taste Everything' fest which turns into a shambles.
            To be fair all the fare is interrelated and Lawrence, with his cast and crew, do a remarkable job of keeping it moving through multiple locations, capturing the essence of character, mood and flavour in every scene within a very well modulated flow. As individuals and as a team their work is exemplary.
            Baby Emma (Helen Sims) bookends the play, mostly as a ghost, having died from an ice cream-related incident in the opening moments. For some reason she haunts guilt-ridden dietician Malcolm Sweet (Alex Greig), whose wife Audrey (Brianne Kerr) re-enters the workforce as a supermarket promoter for somewhat suspect Zooper Bars. She also loves to feed home-made cakes and puddings to their body-building son Daryl (Michael Trigg) who opts for bulimia as a way of not offending her.
            Daryl's girlfriend Sonya (Annalise Booth) is a high-achieving entrepreneurial schoolgirl developing an organic wonder bar and attempting to interest Fliss and Petrus in it. Their American exchange student friend Jenna-Lynn Tuckett — rhymes with KFC bucket — (Alisha Tyson) has a peanut allergy which precipitates anaphylactic episodes and blotches her face something rotten.
            The extremely slender Fliss, by the way, is a client of Malcolm's, as is the morbidly obese Galen Widders (Jonny Potts) who is trying to cure his addiction to food, which he blames for enticing him. Indeed the food in fridge is forever knocking to be liberated and consumed.
            Research scientist Dr Nikita McSkimming (Jean Sergent) is hoping to feed the world with genetically modified cows and suffers from low self-esteem thanks to constant put-downs from her mother (Fliss). At a café that sports a psychopathic waiter called CinCin (Jackson Coe), gauche Nikita dates sensuous Gretchen Fletcher (Rose Guise), who turns out to be a militant vegan activist ...
            Also haunting Malcolm are dietary phantasms Ms Chocolate (Jess Aaltonen), Ms Lettuce (Morgan Rothwell), Corn and Hotdog (Andrew Goddard), who are performed with flair but even as condiments they — along with CinCin and Jenna-Lynn's briefly glimpsed alter-ego super hero Anna Phylactic — add little but clutter to the banquet table, mainly because there is no pay-off for their presence. Likewise a running gag about Fliss's flatulence — an excellent sound effect — vaporises into inconsequence.
            In his programme note Rothwell claims "the play is really about hunger — hunger for control, hunger for company" — and it is possible that central idea could emerge if all the excesses were trimmed away. As it stands, however, it's a frolic that will either give you colic because there is no time to digest anything of substance before the next 'treat' is ingested, or will leave you full and drowsy from over-indulgence, no longer cognisant of what was pleasing in passing.
            The storylines are structured and attention is paid to resolving most of what has been set up, but to what end? Can we take something from the proposition that Sonya's organics contain the magic that finally perk up Petrus's taste buds? Or that Malcolm sees world hunger ending with a single pill that contains all our nutritional needs? Or that it all ends in a food fight and ice cream continues to be lethal?
            "I hope this story will spark discussion about food and its place in our daily lives," writes Rothwell. Well here's the thought at exercised me most at the end: if all food was replaced with a pill, therefore more people lived for longer on the planet, what would that do to the world economy? From the ownership of land and primary production through all the other stages that bring food to our plates — transporting, processing, wholesaling, retailing, recipe publication, preparation at home and in cafes, restaurants and fast food chains, commercial TV shows that feed our apparently bottomless appetites for the subject — right on through to waste disposal, food is a core ingredient in the fiscal chain. Yet that dimension is never mentioned. So how truly does the play reflect the place of food in our daily lives?
            There are many aspects of No Taste Forever that could make is ideal for productions in high schools, like good parts for lots of people and some stimulating production challenges. But in its current state, if this excellent cast, director and production team can't make it into a satisfying repast, I fear that trying to make it work in high schools would prove a miserable experience. Yet with that market there, I do suggest the script could be worth working on.
            Meanwhile if you're into picking morsels from a welter of goodies to re-energise your theatrical taste-buds, give it a go.
- John Smythe, theatreview.org

Always expect the unexpected in a Paul Rothwell play. His latest looks at first as if it is going to be a revue even though it starts with the accidental death of a young girl, whose ghost later appears every now and then in search of the ice-cream she was about to eat when disaster struck. But the revue turns into a dark comedy with intricate and lengthy tragic plots that end in a chaotic finale straight out of a Marx Brothers movie.
            And defying the economics of contemporary theatre he demands in No Taste Forever! a cast of 18 who can act, sing and dance, and play multiple roles. There are also of course numerous costumes, props, lighting cues and scene changes, as well as an exploding suitcase, a talking corn cob, chocolate bar, lettuce and hotdog. All this David Lawrence and his cast and backstage crew carry off with skill and complete assurance.
            Food, says playwright Paul Rothwell in a programme note, is the topic of his dark comedy but he stresses that his play is really about something quite different: hunger for control over others and ourselves and hunger for love and companionship and our ability to stuff ourselves with unsatisfying and often poisonous substitutes to quell the pangs.
            The complex, interlinked plots centre on the promotion of The Perfect Taste Food Fest in which two rival entrepreneurs vie for control. One is anorexic and a food snob who has an unhappy genetic scientist for a daughter who befriends a devious militant vegan; the other is a top chef who wants to promote real food for real people.
            Another plot follows a dietician who tries to help a morbidly obese man but is unable to help Daryl, his accident prone son, and his ignored, insecure wife. Daryl's school friend is a prim and proper head girl who is into organics in a big way. All the while Death sits silently amongst the diners carrying her scythe in the restaurant scenes.
            However, at nearly two hours long and without an interval, No Food Forever! is much like a Christmas dinner: there's too much food on the table and one comes away stuffed and wanting to lie down for a while.
— Laurie Atkinson, The Dominion Post

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