Review: Chummy, White Bear Theatre - the thriller that doesn't quite thrill.
Review: An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre or this is why I go to the theatre

Review: Babette's Feast, Print Room at the Coronet


I've not read Karen Blixen's short story from which this play has been adapted by Glyn Maxwell, neither have I seen the 1987 Danish film version so I can't answer the question I was asked 'did it do it justice?'. What I saw certainly had a feast befitting the title which comes towards the end of the play, it opens with a group of people hiding in a basement while war rages overhead.

A stranger in the group, Babette (Sheila Atim) starts telling a story about two sisters who live in a yellow house in a remote Norwegian community - a pious sect, which lives very simply. There are three parts to the story. First is about how Martine (Whoopie Van Raam) is wooed and rejects, on her father's advice, a young military man who is passing through. Then Philippa (Rachel Winters) is wooed by a singer Papin (Henry Everett) who is convinced she is the perfect soprano but, like her sister, she rejects her suitor.

In the final act, time has passed and the sisters are old ladies (played by Diana Quick and Majorie Yates), living at the heart of the shrinking community. Babette arrives seeking help, having escaped war in Paris, and they offer her a home in return for her working as their cook, making the bland simple food the sect favour. When an unexpected fortune makes Babette independently wealthy she persuades the sisters to let her cook the community a feast of French food.

The structure of the story is such that you get a series of theatrical courses to dine on. The scene setting is the amuse-bouche, Martine's story the starter, Philippa's the fish course - complete with some beautiful singing - and the feast is the centre piece main course. And it is the latter which most sticks in my mind. Throughout the play there is an energy, order and flourishes that seem to culminate in the feast. There is no food but the cooking and table setting is like a mesmerising dance. Once the food and drink is served the fascination is in watching how the different character's eat and respond to the food, any conversation is secondary. Never has eating and drinking imagined food and wine been so convincing - and so mouthwatering.

It is a gentle play of energy, fun and warmth, with some brilliantly executed set pieces. If the goal is to have you leave with a sense of the strength of community then it succeeds but I'm not sure what else there is to take from it. It is 95 minutes and is at the Print Room at the Coronet in Notting Hill until June 3.