“I cook here, create here,
make here be a much of life as I can
because outside of this
I’m not safe
I don’t know the way”
Sabrina Mahfouz’s Chef may have taken its sweet time to open in London after its award-winning run as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 but it has been well worth the wait, not least in being able to see Jade Anouka first return to the Donmar to be an integral part of their female Shakespeare ensemble (her Hotspur was a hot spot in an already-incandescently good production). And now it opens at the Soho Theatre as part of their Soho Solo season.
Just for Laughs Theatricals’ production, skilfully directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward, is a one-woman show that took its inspiration from workshops with ex-offenders and an interview with the Michelin-starred Ollie Dabbous. Chef’s protagonist has had a rollercoaster ride of a life thus far – from salmon farms in the Shetland Islands to getting sucked into inner city gang life, from running her own top-class restaurant to heading the kitchen brigade in the prison where she has been jailed.
Mahfouz and Anouka take us on every swoop and soaring rise of the journey – Mahfouz’s writing toying with linguistic convention, dipping in and out of verse on occasion, evoking a deeply poetic feel at times with expressive forays like “seagulls glide out of stalactite clouds” and then returning to a more prosaic style to allow Chef to explore her food memories as a route to keeping her sanity inside but also to help us navigate the events of her past.
And Anouka rides these swells like a pro – dreamily recalling such tastes as “Manuka honey on iced mango” and yellowtail sashimi with rhubarb gravy and connecting the food with happy memories but also leading us down into the darker depths of her troubles, the rhythms of the text changing to uncover a sharpness, an abruptness, Anouka’s restless physicality revealing a deep-seated unease. Intoxicatingly lyrical, Chef definitely ranks as one of the specials of the month – order now!