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Polarising Palates: A Review of RISING’s FOOD

Melbourne’s RISING Festival has returned for a fourth helping, serving up a delectable range of shows for its 2024 iteration. For those with a more adventurous palate, the festival presents FOOD, an “intimate dinner party performance” presented by American illusionist Geoff Sobelle. The show’s hook? A giant table with plates and cutlery where the audience sits, while Sobelle performs the show as the establishment’s garçon, doing everything from taking fake orders to pouring wine.

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Melbourne’s RISING Festival has returned for a fourth helping, serving up a delectable range of shows for its 2024 iteration. For those with a more adventurous palate, the festival presents FOOD, an “intimate dinner party performance” presented by American illusionist Geoff Sobelle.

The show’s hook? A giant table with plates and cutlery where the audience sits, while Sobelle performs the show as the establishment’s garçon, doing everything from taking fake orders to pouring wine.

 

FOOD is a whiplash combination of audience interaction, illusion, physical comedy, and what can only be described as sculptural art. With so many ingredients, the show’s pacing can feel uneasy; each section so jarring in comparison to the last that you could be convinced you’d seen several entirely separate shows. The show also drags at points; watching Sobelle clear wine glasses for what feels like an age appears less absurdist and more like a bit that’s half-baked, as does his slow procession of toy bison around a very large table.

 

However, the show still delivers a good number of hilarious bits for you to sink your teeth into. Sobelle’s physical comedy and illusionist skills are superb, eliciting both laughter and awe from his audience. From trekking across the Arctic tundra to seemingly growing a potato before our very eyes, it’s hard not to be dazzled by the whimsy of FOOD. Sobelle’s use of the audience in his show is equally impressive and will have you wondering if that person was really waiting with you in the foyer, or if they were a part of the performance all along. And it must be said (without giving too much away) that the sculptural and technical elements of the show’s final phase are nothing short of astounding.

 

But while it certainly delivers a visual spectacle, it could be said that FOOD is like a salad without lettuce--all dressing, no substance. The show is the very definition of absurdism, refusing any kind of intellectualising or deep analysis. Right when you think Sobelle may be digging into a critique of the class divide that exists between hospitality workers and the diners they serve, or of the dreaded phrase “farm-to-table,” he moves on to something entirely new, some new bit that prevents you from lingering on any one train of thought.

 

I fear any patron that has bought a ticket expecting some kind of critical commentary on the food or hospitality industry would be leaving hungry, but perhaps this is Sobelle’s aim after all. To reject the cynicism of “professional” theatre, and to re-introduce the theatrical element of simply playing. FOOD embraces the child-like wonder that comes from watching a magician eat an entire stalk of celery in a single bite. It invites us to laugh and connect with those around us. Sobelle even encourages us to play, quickly tossing out the salad forks and soft jazz of fine dining in favour of toy trucks and doll houses for the audience to create make-believe farms and towns.

 

FOOD may have less layers than lasagna, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty. It’s certainly an acquired taste, but it’s visceral and tangy. If you’re looking for some neatly packaged commentary that you can take to-go, this is not the show for you. But for those out there with stronger stomachs, FOOD could be the fresh taste you’ve been looking for.

 
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